Trust owns the future: The new age of data in the trust economy

By Wyatt Urmey

People may say time is the most valuable commodity, but it’s the trust economy that’s becoming the most important economy of our time. And in this economy, data is the most important currency — not just collections of data, but precision of quality over quantity. Organizations that underestimate data’s value do so at their own peril.

With so many recent reports of data seepage, data misuse and data loss, it’s no surprise that trust in a company and its brand declines in tandem with perceived data insecurity. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook user engagement and trust fell overall. According to The Conversation, only 41 percent of Americans trust Facebook to abide by privacy laws. Yet among the sectors that still inspire trust, technology figures highly, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, though the feeling declines now among those most in-the-know.

One question for Facebook from the most technologically astute would be: “How are you going to recover from this?” But an even better one is: “What could have been done differently for this to never have happened in the first place?”

Trust is more valuable than time

Let’s face it — trust is an exhaustible resource and one that may now be the most valuable a company can possess. While some may say that time is our most valuable asset, trust is what insures investments and runs the financial system. After all, people are willing to give away their time — or donate it, or sell it for a price — but far fewer give away their trust easily or are willing to sell it (those who won’t put their housing on Airbnb know what I mean). Any salesperson will tell you that it’s far easier to win someone’s time than it is to win their trust.

In one survey featured in Harvard Business Review, 97 percent of respondents expressed concern that businesses and the government might misuse their data. You’ve probably also heard that data is the new oil, in that it is a resource every company desires in great quantities and upon which their propulsion forward relies — but also because should there be a leak, the whole world is going to find out about it. The loss in trust could be catastrophic — or even pose an existential threat.

The trust economy and data

At a cellular level within a business, trust is based on data precision and quality. Like the fate of music and video, the fate of trust is digitized into data today because so many of the execution elements of business operations — getting trucks out for delivery, making maintenance appointments on time, finding a broken part in machinery, providing the right care to the right patient — depend on sound data, so much so that they’re becoming one and the same. Yet businesses’ current value of data may be blinded by its abundance: Having too much of anything is the surest way to underestimate its value.

Join our GDPR webinar and accelerate your analytics journey

Mobile often exacerbates the perceived data glut by providing more data from sensors and context than businesses have ever had before, putting it at our fingertips. And according to DataFloq, the volume of data is growing exponentially due to the rise in instrumented devices and sensors (IoT) and the growth in mobile context data, which is in constant flow.

How do we acquire digital trust?

Trust is hard to earn. Think of your first day on the job and the amount of effort that was required to set yourself apart and get the project you wanted. In the physical world, your presence proves your identity, and people learn over time they can trust you based on your reputation. When people can verify on the spot that you are who you say you are, as when you’re physically present, your colleagues don’t have to doubt when interacting with you that you are their trusted counterpart. Not so in the digital world, right?

Of course, the same way we acquire trust in person is how we must achieve it in digital business: through honesty, consistency, reliability, transparency, accuracy and quick admissions of error when they occur. However, we must also be mindful in the digital world that there is the additional constant concern about and focus on verification of source. Are you who you say you are? If I see you again, can I be sure that it’s you again? Is the person making changes to the database really you, or is it someone else logged in with your credentials?

The trust economy will put increasing value on authenticity and reliability, with data quality and recency playing a critical role. The point is that in the digital world, organizations project their reputation by providing great and consistent data as the guarantor of trust, or else by preserving at all costs that data that has been entrusted to them. According to some analysts, though, a majority of leaders still do not think of their data as a strategic asset.

Trust can’t be won instantly, but it can surely be lost instantly

According to a recent article from Fast Company, we are living in the “reputation age.” This is just another way of invoking a trust-based economy. For organizations, this is where your brand, your history, your identification and your data collide. Perhaps it’s cliche, but trust is earned over time and lost all at once. Therefore, businesses need to look closely at the regulations that impact their data — GDPR, for instance — and see these regulatory requirements not as constraints but as opportunities to lead the change that could make them a champion of authenticity in the new reputation age.

Three steps to keep your enterprise’s digital credibility

The first step is a comprehensive understanding of your data, as well as of the users and their specific needs and visibility. Understand comprehensively what data you have and who has access to it.

Second, make sure everyone sees and accesses a single view of the truth. This is where data lakes and centralized data management can play a helpful role. This may require investments in training and security.

Finally, act now so that you have a foundation of proven data trust and credibility upon which you can build out AI. In the coming age of artificial intelligence, the data inequalities between companies will snowball, going from competitive edges to critical business advantages. Companies that haven’t mastered their data governance and uses will soon find themselves training AI with unsound insights. This is why it’s vital to take steps now to verify, manage and control access to your data.

A business’s credibility in a competitive world — and in an ecosystem of partners — is all based on trust. That trust stems from a company’s care of data and the ethical use of it. If you want to thrive in the competitive landscape, instilling trust in your customers is the essential first step — and your organization’s data is now your reputation, legacy and future wrapped together in the trust economy. The faster leaders realize it, the better off they’ll be.

Join our GDPR webinar and accelerate your analytics journey