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COMMENTARY

Singapore could lead the way in data protection

WHILE global businesses are increasingly reliant on rapid, unobstructed flows of data around the world, we have seen how that information must be protected. Recent new stories have certainly highlighted how personal information could be misappropriated without corporate due diligence and regulatory oversight.

Not surprisingly, we have simultaneously witnessed the rise of national policies to protect data around the world, including increasing legislation to control the use and movement of data. The number of restrictive trade measures adopted by G-20 members has quadrupled to 1,263 in 2016 from 324 in 2010; and the number of countries with data privacy laws has tripled to more than 100 in 2015 from 34 in 1995. The established trend of data globalisation is now being reversed by what we call 'digital fragmentation', and this could disrupt or curtail businesses' growth strategies. Fiery social media commentary has called for action.

It is clear that companies need to add a new lens to the strategic-planning process so they comply with global regulations, which at present are inconsistent across countries. Companies will have to assess how data regulations such as national cross-border restrictions and requirements will affect business models. Executives will have to re-evaluate where and how to maintain different types of data - which could mean trade-offs between security and ease of accessibility. And all decisions need to include the question: what is our cybersecurity plan of action for this?

Given the number of multinationals in Singapore, and the number of homegrown companies that are becoming regional powerhouses, Singapore has an incentive to protect its well-deserved reputation as both a safe and efficient place to do business. By embracing vigorous data-protection standards that ensure peoples' privacy are protected, but implementing them in ways that enable business to carry on cost-effectively, Singapore could lead the way.

AT THE FOREFRONT

In financial services, Singapore is already at the forefront. We have been working with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) to explore how blockchain technology could significantly improve the kinds of payment systems that currently enable banks around the world to transfer trillions of dollars per day to each other and help them manage their financial liquidity.

Using blockchain for data protection also has the added benefit of streamlining costs. Recently, a consortium comprising AB InBev, Accenture, APL, Kuehne + Nagel and a European customs organisation successfully tested a blockchain solution that can eliminate the need for printed shipping documents. As the documents are no longer exchanged physically or digitally but instead, the relevant data is shared and distributed using blockchain technology under single ownership principles determined by the type of information, the data is well protected. The consortium forecasts that the solution could save the freight and logistics industry hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Elsewhere in the world we are looking at how blockchain could be used to make transportation safer, more affordable, and more widely accessible. It could be used for everything from the handling of vehicle ID numbers and collision histories to the complex supply chains that lead to assembly lines and dealerships. In short, blockchain offers new levels of data security and transparency.

For Singapore to forge a path as a country that is a great place to do business and a leader in data protection, Singapore companies need to promote the ethical use of data - and that genuine edict needs come from the top of the company. Companies need to accept that privacy indeed can be regulated, rather than look for loopholes in regulation. They need to put cybersecurity at the very core of their business strategy and choose business solutions that embrace protecting data while seeking out efficient business solutions. They would be wise to work in industry consortiums hand in hand with the government to put together plans for how to grow in the new digital world.

  • The writer is Accenture group chief executive of growth markets

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