Today, value-creation is rooted in trust. Here’s how we build it.
10 November 2021 • 7 min read
It's received wisdom that tech gives companies a competitive edge. But that's only true when the tech is used to deliver what customers want. Today, consumers often feel that companies are using tech AGAINST their interests — to manipulate, extort or spy on them, for profit. To remedy this, companies must marry tech with trust, and that trust begins with how we collect and handle their data.
The importance of trust
There’s plenty of research underlining the importance of trust. As far back as 2017, Grant Thornton published a report making “the business case for trust,” demonstrating that trust can improve performance at all levels of the business, from employee engagement and productivity, to external investment, all the way through to customer loyalty.
This is increasingly true for businesses that provide services based on their customers’ data.
Last year, meanwhile, McKinsey published an article following research on consumer perspectives on privacy and data. “Consumers are becoming increasingly intentional about what types of data they share—and with whom,” the organisation noted. Subsequently, this means there’s a real opportunity for organisations to take the lead and gain an advantage in challenging times:
"Because the stakes are so high—and awareness of these issues is growing—the way companies handle consumer data and privacy can become a point of differentiation and even a source of competitive business advantage."
Trusted technology: what does it look like?
Technology might have caused a trust deficit, but we should be optimistic about its ability to solve the problem it has caused. What’s crucial is that we are intentional and thoughtful about the way we deploy technological solutions - that we’re responding to both the needs of businesses and consumers while maintaining a strong code of ethics.
However, this requires a significant shift in perspective. Instead of seeing technology as something that simply drives efficiency or revenue, we should instead view it as the very thing that drives trust. That doesn’t mean sacrificing our growth goals: instead, it’s about seeing trust as the driver and technology as the enabler. For too long the industry has overlooked trust and attempted to short circuit value-creation - this might have worked for a while but it’s clearly not sustainable, with several high-profile breaches of trust sending ripples through the industry
But what does trusted technology look like in practical terms? Clearly trust matters, but it’s not enough to treat it as something abstract - we need to have the confidence to take practical steps to enable it.
Transparency ensures trust. From a practical standpoint, then, this means the platforms and applications we build should always be transparent in what data they collect, why it was collected and how it will be retained.
This doesn’t mean dark patterns and labyrinthine privacy policies that users clearly won’t read - instead it means respecting the autonomy of your user and having the confidence to be clear and open about the precise ways in which their data will or won’t be used.
Such a move could be transformative for an individual organisation - but if we could achieve critical mass in embracing transparency it could also be transformative for the tech industry as a whole.
It puts users in control
Transparency is about what information is available. The next step is to ensure that users are able to act upon that information. In short, do they want to share their data with you? Does the exchange make sense to them?
Giving users this control might feel frightening. But it’s a step that we need to take as an industry if we’re to continue to innovate and use data in ways that are valuable for users. If we don’t, everyone loses out. Trust will continue to deteriorate and it will become even harder to leverage data as a source of value creation.
Its value is shared
There’s one crucial element to trusted technology we’ve not yet mentioned: value should be shared. This should, in theory, come out of the first two - if we build for transparency and are willing to put users in control, this should create a more symmetrical value exchange. Users know what and why data is being collected - and their decision to share data becomes an active one.
That immediately gives businesses an advantage when it comes to data- data inevitably has more integrity - indeed, accuracy - when the terms on which it is shared and then used are visible.
If we look back to the early years of the internet, transparency and openness were critical to innovation and the creation of new opportunities for value creation. Today, the opposite seems to be the case; the notion of innovation is more likely to be linked to monopolisation and exclusivity (look, for example, at NFTs).
By focusing on the way value is created through sharing and collaboration, we can begin to renew trust and uncover more possibilities for innovation.
This won’t be easy, of course. It will require a serious shift in perspective for many organisations. It will also require new tools to help us build this alternative approach.
Solid is one such tool. Backed by Inrupt, a company founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the creator of the world wide web), Solid is an extension of the web that redefines the relationship between people, organisations, data and applications.
The story that’s most commonly told about Solid is that it gives users ownership and control over their data. It's also worth thinking about it from a slightly different perspective: Solid helps organisations to build confidence and trust with users by ensuring there is full transparency about what is being shared and with whom. This means that businesses can differentiate themselves from their competitors in complex and crowded marketplaces, and build customer and client loyalty that lasts.
“The web is one of the most important aspects of our everyday life,” said Emmet Townsend, VP of Engineering at Inrupt. “With Solid, we’re giving the organisations who create the applications we use daily the opportunity to build web services centered on trust, truth and shared value — allowing for experiences beyond anything we’ve ever seen.”
This is great for brand reputation of course, but it can also underpin future innovation.
A particularly good example is the NHS in the UK. The benefits for end users is obvious - ensuring full transparency and granting autonomy to end-users in the context of personal medical data gives people confidence and cements trust in the institution. But for organisations as well, this can enable innovation, better products - in short, making it easier to deliver value to the user.
As Scott Walker, Technical Director at one UK hospital, said, “all the different services that you interact with come to you - so you tell your story only once." The implication is that while there is a distinct benefit for users, it also allows the NHS to deliver higher quality services more effectively: “services… come to you.”
However, it would be wrong to see Solid as a silver bullet to trust challenges. Implementing it requires a strong commitment to a broader data strategy in which security and integrity are emphasised. AND Digital is working with Inrupt to help businesses implement Solid in a way that is cohesive with a broader data and product strategy.
“What Inrupt is doing is incredibly important from both a technology and business operating standpoint,” said my colleague - AND Digital’s Chief of Consulting - Stephen Paterson. “What’s critical is that the implementation of Solid works to fully align the two elements, fundamentally accelerating and maximising enterprise opportunities. That’s what AND Digital are doing - helping businesses implement Solid and playing a significant part in pushing the evolution of the data ecosystem forward in a really positive and innovative way.”
Renewing the value of data in business
Data was once famously described as crude oil. If the metaphor still stands, today we have an oil spill, with all the ethical implications that an environmental disaster raises.
But that doesn’t mean we should simply dismiss the value of data. Instead, by giving users more control over the data they possess, we can ensure that this data is used in ways that have real and lasting value. It should build and reinforce relationships and be used in their interests.
“This is about making markets,” Tim Berners-Lee said in an interview with the New York Times. Giving customers control over their data isn’t a conservative move - it’s one that can open up new opportunities for businesses. Solid can play a critical part in helping organisations do just that, and will ultimately open up real opportunities for growth as the ecosystem expands.
Find out how to leverage Solid to build trust and open new opportunities for growth. Talk to Inrupt and AND Digital, and let’s work together.
Get in touch.