As just about every tech company embraces artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and data analytics to take advantage of the long-term trend of digital transformation, digital trust has emerged as a key issue for consumers and enterprises—and for the tech companies themselves.

The idea is that today’s increasingly data-centric world is only possible with transparency and trust, and that trust and security in digital business models is a fundamental requirement, and not optional.

What is digital trust?

What is digital trust? It’s an assurance, for customers availing of products and services that capture user data, that their providers’ systems will protect and secure the privacy and integrity of that data. “Integrity,” in other words, is the assurance that the data won’t be stolen, corrupted, or changed without authorization.

It’s not just relevant to customers, but to all stakeholders—including partners, employees, investors, and regulators. And it isn’t limited to personal data: customers expect the same level of data integrity in their use of products and services that rely on any combination of proprietary, third-party, or public data.

Many companies have already defined digital trust within the context of corporate governance commitments, where stringent policies for data protection and privacy have been made transparent to all stakeholders. For example, Telefónica has published its Digital Trust by Design approach, incorporating privacy, security, (ethical) AI, and responsible use (of data). The policy states that the company will protect customers’ data through high privacy and security standards, monitored at the highest level, and that it is transparent about how, why and when its customers’ data is collected, used, stored and deleted, as well as how it protects it. It also promises to empower its customers to have access to, and control of, their personal data. Other tech companies have linked digital trust to other aspects of their sustainability efforts, including social aspects, likening it to “virtuous cycles” and part of a company’s health and safety concerns.

Tech companies like Salesforce, SAP, and Orange Business have established the role of Chief Trust Officer, or a “Trust Office” reporting to senior management or the board of directors, where such policies are designed and implemented.

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By GlobalData

More than just policy and procedures

But digital trust is something that goes beyond creating a policy and procedures. Digital trust has relevance to a tech company across multiple areas of the business (including the obvious one of developing internal controls for maintaining the safety and integrity of stored customer data). It is also extremely important in securing the company’s wider services infrastructure — such as the servers, software, and networks which deliver its solutions.

Tech companies, and especially cloud and network providers, trade on the security they’ve built for their services infrastructure, aiming to earn the reputation of a “trusted provider” within their market. Any investments made in cybersecurity, along with policies to ensure “security by design” in product development, are highlighted as key competitive differentiators. Some are being productized as providers form alliances and pitch solutions for cloud and data “sovereignty”.

Taking it one step further, tech companies are starting to articulate how they can leverage their investments in digital trust and data integrity to help enterprises do the same—in support of their own digital business models. After all, organizations in verticals as diverse as government, retail, healthcare, and media are far down the path of establishing data-centric services (and supply chains), and more industrial verticals such as manufacturing, utilities, and transportation are all embracing AI and advanced data analytics in their operations. The former are in immediate need of establishing their own digital trust, while the latter increasingly depend upon the integrity of data to succeed in their core business.

What comes next? Digital trust will become an increasingly common byword in product marketing, business ethics, government regulation, and customer purchasing. All companies—tech or not—should be looking to establish it.