- Business leaders must take the initiative and ensure that digital progress doesn't undermine traditional values and endanger consumers
- With 5G on the horizon, coupled with other advanced technologies, our world is changing fast and intelligent connectivity is now a reality
- Regulators must catch up and work with business leaders to encourage ethical behaviour and find the right approach for responsible progress
- Trust is the "new collateral", says Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, and the foundation of good leadership – now enshrined in a charter called the "Digital Declaration"
We live in extraordinary times. How often have you heard that phrase in recent years? While there have been revolutionary discoveries and inventions throughout history, progress sometimes takes a giant leap forward and totally transforms business and society. That's what we are experiencing today – and it's exciting and disorientating in equal measure.
Whether you call it the Digital Age, the Information Age, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the last two decades have been characterised by unprecedented changes. First, we had the rise of the internet and now we have the internet of things, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, blockchain. The list goes on, and as today's technologies merge and blend, our world is becoming ever more automated and connected.
The challenge is how to navigate these fundamental technological changes and ensure responsible and ethical progress. With progress comes the duty to build a sustainable future, to reap the benefits of new technologies while also protecting society and meeting consumer needs. Such was the theme of the GSMA Responsible Leadership panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Opening the debate, Mats Granryd of the GSMA, said that we must turn "uncertainty into opportunity" by taking stock of the many forces that are shaping our lives and then plan wisely and cooperatively for the future. Granryd said that we are on the threshold of 5G and intelligent connectivity, with 1.3 billion 5G connections forecast by 2025, but no one knows the full potential of the technology and how it might develop.
Therefore we need leaders to shape our vision of the future and provide direction, which Granryd said we can achieve through initiatives such as the "Digital Declaration", launched by the GSMA at Davos. Backed by the CEOs of 40 business leaders worldwide, the Digital Declaration is a charter for responsible leadership that lays out the key principles to guide ethical behaviour in the digital age.
Through the right leadership, we will gain trust as well as direction. "Trust is the new collateral," said Granryd, and it's something every business leader must build by taking ownership of the future and guiding us on the digital journey. This is more than simply leading by example; it requires a collective commitment to innovate with foresight and care, and to work closely with regulators, other businesses, digital pioneers, governments, and of course consumers.
If careful leadership inspires trust, the wrong business approach will quickly erode it – not least in the eyes of investors. It's a reputation issue, said Mark Ein, CEO of Capitol Investment Corp. IV, because "the investment trend is now towards sustainability." In the past, that normally implied environmental sustainability, but today it means acting ethically and responsibly.
Ein said that with many people simply chasing quick wins in the digital era, we must remember to balance speed and profit with responsibility and accountability. Reputations are easily tarnished, and it's dangerous to ignore long-term needs and consumer sensitivities. Business leaders, he said, must not sacrifice sustainability for short-term gains. We are now witnessing a market correction, he confirmed, where progress needs to be checked by suitable controls.
Mark Foster, SVP global business services, IBM, discussed the challenge that leaders face from convergence and connectivity. As platforms come together, and more information is shared, there is an even greater need for trust. And the common denominator here is data – who owns it, how we use it, and how to prevent misuse and defeat increasingly sophisticated fraudsters.
According to a frequently quoted figure from IBM, 90 percent of the world's digital data was generated in a two-year period, and we are continuing to create data at a rate of 2.5 quintillion bytes every day. Regulators have been trying to catch up through legislation such as GDPR and PSD2, but we need cross-industry understanding and commitment to keep pace with change and respect the rights of consumers.
The panel agreed that leadership means protecting consumers and creating boundaries for data collection and usage. The world of digital data, and particularly big data and the internet of things, is so new and moves so fast that it exposes regulatory gaps and is continually exploited by cybercriminals. The panel emphasized that business leaders must be vigilant and recognize these blind spots.
The failures of leadership are all too evident. When an internet giant misuses information, trust is betrayed. When data confidentially is breached, either accidentally or by malicious act, the results can be hugely damaging. And in the last two years alone, we have seen many cases where big brands have failed to live up to their ideals, with an inevitable consumer backlash.
However, the panel also agreed that the perils of new technology must not obscure the immense opportunities, particularly as we move into the age of 5G. As Granryd pointed out, intelligent connectivity has enormous potential to improve the quality of life and contribute to areas such as healthcare. At the same time, wherever we push the boundaries, we must not lose the human factor and sacrifice traditional values in the name of progress.
A balanced and enlightened approach is needed to ensure transparency and protect consumers. Leaders must recognize that data control and the development of new technology are more than just compliance issues. They are fundamentally strategic and ethical issues that depend on responsible leadership and initiatives such as the "Digital Declaration."