The World Economic Forum’s 2019 annual meeting took place in Davos from 22–25th January. Here, Tim Andree (Executive Chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network) discusses his key takeaways from this year’s summit.
If there’s one theme I had to pick out from the recent WEF annual meeting in Davos, it would have to be trust. Barely a panel session or a speech went by that did not touch on the need for businesses to rebuild trust by ensuring they are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Trust is a topic that has always been close to my heart. It’s the foundation of successful long-term client relationships and, ultimately, more sustainable growth. The challenge is that it requires a long-term approach and relentless consistency across all aspects of a business’s strategy and operations. In this complex world of digital disruption and instantaneous newsfeeds, maintaining that longer view can be challenging. But it’s essential to do so, for while trust takes a long time to earn, it disappears in a flash. It also has a significant bottom line impact too — many examples recently show how consumers will desert a business they do not trust, with revenue and share price suffering as a result.
There are many dimensions to trust. Our own work on trust at Dentsu Aegis provides clients with a framework for breaking down the concept and understanding what they need to prioritize with their clients as far as media investment is concerned. But as the pace of technological innovation increases, the complexity and multitude of trust issues continues to grow.
Probably the most interesting angle on trust discussed at Davos for me was trust in data use, which formed the backdrop of sessions around algorithmic governance, artificial intelligence and digital transformation. It was at one of these sessions that Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, announced that “data privacy is a human right and must be protected”. He also went on to voice support for the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and called for new global standards on data, privacy and AI.
Our forthcoming Digital Society Index research underlines this point. In a new model of digital needs, we emphasize that trust in data use (in terms of both privacy and security) is a foundational requirement alongside access to digital infrastructure. It can no longer be treated as a discretionary activity or optional extra. It must be baked into how we design new products and services.
Satya’s comments and many of the other debates, conversations and discussions over the week confirmed for me that we are seeing a number of principles of responsible digital innovation emerge. Three that seem particularly important to me are as follows:
1. Human-first: There’s been a recognition that too often digital innovation has been pursued without necessary thought given to how it is meeting fundamental human needs. Human-centred design has been a fashionable concept for a while now, but we can expect to hear more about it in tech circles and business more generally as companies seek to re-calibrate more closely around human needs and wants.
2. Transparency: Openness is emerging as a critical tool through which trust can be rebuilt. How this works in practice, however, is less straightforward. Terms and conditions were designed to give easy transparency to users, but too often are little more than a tick-box exercise. New approaches to transparency are needed to make it a source of differentiation and trust-building.
3. Control and accountability: Building on point 2, one of the ways to make transparency real is through giving people actual control over the process of tech development. We’re seeing this in the discussion around oversight of AI development, but also in terms of personal data use where many tech companies are giving their users greater control on what data gets shared and how.
It’s an exciting time to be leading a digital business. There are big trust challenges to overcome for sure — but the potential benefits to society, business and individuals are too great for us not to find novel solutions to the world’s innovation challenges.