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COMMENTARY

Digital success depends on trust

As users put more personal data in the cloud, they will prefer companies that have the best data protection.

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AS digital technology becomes more pervasive and with consumers owning multiple connected devices, it is not surprising that we now have more information stored on our devices than in our house. The increasing popularity of smartphones and mobile, cloud-connected devices also means that the cloud will become further ingrained in our daily lives.

Transparency in how companies handle customers' data has grown to be a key trust issue when you consider the amount of data that we are giving out about ourselves. As a result, it is only natural for us to want to know that our information is managed properly and securely, and is not being monetised without our knowledge or consent.

People do not use technology they do not trust.

Like many people today, I have lots of personal data at stake, contained in my many cloud-connected devices and services. Hence, when making technology choices, it is less of an issue of convenience but more a question of the value I would gain from a service before deciding whether to provide my personal data.

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I often ask myself - do I trust the companies or brands behind these services and products? Do they have data privacy practices and security measures that provide me with peace of mind?

At the end of the day, we must balance these considerations and think about whether it is worth making the trade-off. For some services, these trade-offs are necessary and worthwhile in order for us to receive more useful information or services.

Regardless, what will happen when there is no lack of choices is that consumers will also gravitate towards using services from companies that they trust, based upon the privacy policies and security capabilities of the companies that deliver those services. The bottom line is that as users of technology, we need to trust that our personal privacy is being protected by the technology providers we use.

In the longer term, the reality is that a service or product will not survive for long if it does not pay attention to user expectations in privacy and security.

Think about the technology products and services that you are using today - it could be an automated teller machine (ATM), a mobile payment service, or even an online shopping service. What these have in common is the user's trust that they will work as they should and securely too.

Data is the new currency in the digital age, but as with other forms of currency, it will only have value if the right protections are in place. That is why new opportunities will flow from data-driven innovation over the long term if people can trust that their data is secure and being used in ways they can understand and accept.

When you consider that every business in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be a software business - building applications, using advanced analytics and providing cloud-based services - then trust in the cloud will become more crucial than ever before.

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

In my conversations with customers in the public and private sectors, they have repeatedly highlighted that the four foundational principles of trust - security, privacy, compliance and transparency - are key in attracting and retaining customers in the longer term.

Trust has become a competitive edge for digital businesses today, and it is more important now than ever before that we work towards being a trusted provider of services - whether to consumers, businesses, or both.

In business-centred technology conversations today, we no longer debate about whether to host data in a public or private cloud. Instead, what we need now is a distributed hybrid cloud infrastructure as the richness of your data should be represented in how it is stored. More importantly, we should also have the management tools, security tools and development tools to make this hybrid data estate a cohesive set versus disparate technologies.

It is also true that the core capability of any business will be the ability to convert their data into insights for actions and adaptation to new realities. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies are integral to any digital business' ability to stay relevant. We see this in our own advances in Microsoft Research and in product experiences with Bing, Cortana, LinkedIn Newsfeed, Skype Translator, Azure, Office 365, Dynamics 365, mixed reality applications on the HoloLens as well as our cybersecurity services.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

With Microsoft AI, we want to democratise AI advances so every person and every organisation can be empowered to amplify human ingenuity, and also reflect our shared societal values and expectations. AI can help every company in every corner of the globe transform, ranging from Liebherr, which is building an intelligent refrigerator; to Boeing, which is now delivering aircraft with a digital twin; to using commodity cameras with deep neural networks to make any physical place searchable.

To realise the full potential of technology, a top priority for us at Microsoft is to put our customers' minds at ease in adopting cloud technology, and in how they can trust us to offer them a more secure environment than they could ever create at home or in the workplace.

This includes our company's yearly investment of over US$1 billion to enhance cybersecurity in myriad ways, from developing software and services with security built-in to deploying these cloud services in highly-secure geographically distributed Microsoft data centres that are protected by layers of defence-in-depth security. These data centres make up our company's over 100 highly-secure facilities worldwide, linked by one of the largest networks on the planet.

In the current landscape, trust has become a critical competitive advantage for technology providers. This is where transparency in standards for compliance, security, transparency and privacy practices has become increasingly important in helping customers decide whom to trust.

Microsoft was the first major cloud provider to adopt ISO/IEC 27018. This standard was developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) to establish a uniform, international approach to protecting privacy for personal data stored in the cloud. Microsoft was also the first to obtain certification across our Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings for the Multi-Tier Cloud Security Standard for Singapore (MTCS SS) in Singapore.

In line with Microsoft's commitment to transparency, the company launched the Microsoft Transparency Hub, which publishes semi-annual reports about requests for customer data made by law enforcement agencies.

Cloud is increasingly seen as a key enabler of an organisation's journey to digital transformation. Wider industry adoption of international standards will bring even more companies to the cloud eventually, as these standards will affirm new levels of clarity, transparency and consistency.

Undoubtedly, the cloud will power the Fourth Industrial Revolution. With every business connected to the cloud in the future, we must continue to prioritise the four foundational principles of trust - security, privacy, compliance and transparency - in order for humanity to harness the power of the cloud to tackle some of the world's toughest challenges ahead of us.

  • The writer is chief technology officer, Microsoft Singapore

 

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