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November 13, 2019

‘Social Contract’ Needed to Establish Trusted Data

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With data emerging as the life blood of most industries, the emphasis has shifted from organizing and analyzing big data to finding ways to establish higher levels of trust in the torrent of data generated through customer and partner interactions.

The emphasis on data trust also reflects the growing importance of privacy as consumers worry about how their data is being used and shared.

A study released this week by IBM found that establishing “a social contract of trust” around data collection and sharing is the key to continued economic growth and prosperity. The survey of about 13,500 executives around the world found that the vast majority of business leaders—82 percent—believe data offers a strategic advantage that translates into customer trust and, with it, a stronger bottom line.

Along with trusting data gleaned from customers, the study found that trust must extend to internal business processes and across partners and suppliers. Among the keys is greater transparency about how data is being used. Eighty-one percent of executives polled said they work with companies that are up front about data usage.

Transparency can be bolstered through a commitment to data security along with the exchange of data used to provide new customer services. “Companies that earn customer trust are more likely to keep the data they have—and collect more of it,” the survey notes.

Once earned, the process becomes a two-way street in which companies and their customers trust each other. The resulting trusted data can be used to boost business models, the survey authors argue.

“Businesses need to be able to earn trust from their customers while also trusting the data from their own processes and ecosystems, or they will quickly fall behind their peers,” Mark Foster, IBM’s senior vice president for global business services, said in releasing the survey results.

Trusted data also is seen as a critical component for advanced analytics that use machine learning to improve decision making and automate business processes. Trusted data is also seen as one component of explainable AI: “Organizations are learning to master the quality of data, mitigate algorithmic bias and serve up answers with evidence,” the study notes.

“Your AI is only as good as your data,” Rob Thomas, general manager of IBM’s Data and AI unit, said during a recent company event.

IBM executives promoting its Watson and other AI tools have noted the current lack of “shaped” data. Among the paths to data trust is the elimination model bias, data integrity and, ultimately, “labeled ground truth,” Rohan Vaidyanathan, IBM’s program director for its Watson OpenScale initiative, said in an interview.

The IBM survey also found that 65 percent executives expect automation tools will augment their decision-making process over the next two to three years.

The data trust study was conducted by IBM’s Institute of Business Value in collaboration with Oxford Economics. They surveyed executives across 20 industries in 98 countries.

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