Why it’s time to talk about trust

Why it’s time to talk about trust

Countless surveys show that security and privacy are among the top concerns and biggest barriers to growth of the IoT market. Looking at this from a business perspective, simply put, if there is a lack of trust in a digital ecosystem (including the end-user) it will not grow. Indeed, in their ground-breaking book Platform Revolution, Geoffrey Parker, Marshall Van Alstyne and Sangeet Paul Choudary identify trust as a crucial metric for the growth of platform business startups.

In the internet of everything (IoE), digital ecosystem participants can include people, organizations and all kinds of digital systems from platforms to devices. The participants may play multiple roles including consumer, provider, platform owner, customer, vendor, regulator, etc., and they all make trust-based decisions about whether, when, how often and to which degree to exchange or consume value. The speed at which IoE participants can make affirmative trust decisions determines the growth rate of value creation, revenue, profits and sustainability. To realize the full potential of the internet of everything, digital systems ranging from platforms to IoT devices must be able to make these decisions quickly and ideally autonomously, which requires trustworthy digital information about participants, their offerings and their capabilities. In other words, it requires ‘digital trust’.

The concept of trust goes beyond security and privacy – it reaches right across the business and ecompasses customer experience and transparency, brand image and more. Trust has become one the main pillars of success in the digital, connected economy.

What’s more, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, trust needs to be managed not only on the consumer or end-user front, but also on the ecosystem front. The only way an ecosystem of partners will succeed together is if there is a solid foundation of trust upon which the various partnerships rest. What is needed to achieve this? One of the words you’ve probably been waiting for is blockchain. We’ll we’ll come back to this a little further down, as there’s a lot more to trust as well.

How do you become a trusted ecosystem partner?

Gene Glaudell, former Tesla CIO and founder of Gn0man explains that, “Digital trust turns the increasing expenses of mandatory security, privacy and regulatory risk management into revenue-enhancing competitive advantage for digital ecosystems”.

As Clive Humby, a well-known British marketer and data scientist, put it back in 2006, “Data is the new oil. It’s valuable, but if unrefined, it cannot really be used”. With data effectively being a valuable source of revenue for stakeholders in this digital value fabric, it’s not always easy to know what they can and cannot do with data in order to monetize it, while complying with applicable regulations and also respecting consumers beyond these. In a multinational context it’s even more complex.

Through regulation, governments are demanding that businesses protect customers, end-users, marketplaces and suppliers from rapidly increasing threats including data and identify theft, fraud, denial of service, ransomware and terrorism. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the EU-US Privacy Shield are good examples.

The primary objectives of the GDPR are to give control back to citizens over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying regulation within the EU. The regulation lays the foundation for near-term digital trust capabilities and raises the issue of conflicts between balancing privacy and transparency (for example, data portability and the right to be forgotten).

The graphic below shows the relative strength of data protection laws worldwide.

TM Forum members including Communications Service Providers (CSPs), their technology and innovation partners as well as digital industry leaders, see collaboration as necessary to mitigate the risks and develop digital trust. Working toward establishing guidelines and best practices, partners and competitors share experiences and insight contributing towards creating industry assets available to all members to help businesses generate trust and manage data responsibly.

There are also a number of efforts are underway across the world to increase collaboration and build a framework for digital trust. Ideally they will all come together in a trusted ecosystem.

  • NIST has established the Cyber-Physical Systems Public Working Group (CPS PWG), which explores how security, privacy, safety, reliability, resilience and assurance all contribute to the trustworthiness of digital information, devices, systems and networks. The group, which is open to all, collects input from people and organizations involved in cybersecurity worldwide.
  • Jeffrey Ritter, Digital Information Expert & External Lecturer, University of Oxford, has proposed a conceptual model for digital trust management that explores the definition of trust and digital trust.
  • Smart contracts, which combine protocols with user interfaces to formalize and secure relationships over computer networks, are now being implemented using blockchain and distributed ledger technology. Initially proposed in 1997 by Nick Szabo, a computer scientist, legal scholar and cryptographer known for his research in digital contracts and digital currency, smart contracts promise to be a key enabling technology for implementing digital trust.

Blockchain – more than a buzzword

So here we are, back at blockchain… Many industry experts believe (as we do at TM Forum) that blockchain technology has the potential to secure and facilitate IoE transactions, boosting confidence and trust in services, ecosystem players and the technology as a whole, releasing its full potential. Enabling transparency, immutability, and automation, the tech behind crypto currencies is capable of so much more. There are concerns around it as there are with any emerging technology, but we believe it is more than just a trend and are working with members to identify use cases and establish guidelines for the implementation of blockchain technology within connected business. Smart contracts are one application many industry bodies including TM Forum are exploring to not only enhance trust, but also streamline transactions, facilitate monetization and boost overall profitability of digital ecosystem services.

Other fast-emerging technologies that will have a role in establishing and maintaining trust in the IoE marketplace are machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). With countless projects underway and offerings already available, AI certainly is one of the hot areas of 2018, but again, we believe it’s more than a trend, though there’s much exploration and experimentation to be done. Machine learning and AI have the potential to revolutionize and fully automate business processes, taking people and human error out of the equation, accelerating processes and operations exponentially, predicting scenarios and reacting in time or indeed ahead of time, and contributing to outstanding seamless customer experience. 

The roadmap of digital trust challenges

For the internet of everything (IoE) to realize its full potential, digital trust is paramount. Trust decisions among digital ecosystem partners must be supported by a common language and standards for information, capabilities and open application program interfaces (APIs). Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of challenges to be addressed from a business perspective to achieve trust. We must remember though that there is no final destination in trust, but that rather it is something to which organizations will need to strive continuously:

  1. Establishing a common digital trust framework
  2. Mitigating regulatory compliance
  3. Digitizing business rules and developing automated “smart contracts”
  4. Information governance and provenance
  5. Balancing privacy, security and transparency
  6. Digital trust decision computational capabilities
  7. Managing autonomous digital trust decisions

Concerns and issues around trust aren’t going anywhere and neither is the connected digital economy, so it’s vital to address and manage this as best as possible. Cybercrime in on the rise and it would be foolish to imagine that one day we could achieve a truly unbreachable system, however measures can and must be taken by all ecosystem stakeholders to work together in securing and guarding data, all data, by leveraging technology available and working in open collaboration to advance these technologies and their applications.