How CEOs can build a stronger business by getting data right

January 22, 2020

by Roland Sonnenberg Partner

Email +44 (0)7976 292063

Business leaders across the UK are deeply concerned about the pace of technological change and declining trust in business. These worries are exacerbated by concerns about the availability of relevant skills to address them.

These are among the key UK findings of PwC’s 23rd annual CEO Survey and they are all challenges with one thing in common - data; from collecting it and protecting it to getting value from it and using it responsibly.

But where there are challenges, there are also opportunities, such as getting to know customers better, or identifying opportunities to grow or improve your business in an economic climate in which every advantage must be seized.

The role of data in building a profitable and purposeful business

The idea of what makes a good business is changing. Historically, a sound balance sheet or rising stock price might have been considered the most relevant - or even only - indicator of true corporate value. Now, being seen as a trustworthy company - one that has strong values and a sense of purpose is just as important for success. A good reputation is hard to build, easy to destroy and absolutely critical to business success.

So when it comes to data, businesses must do what’s best for them and best for their people, their customers and society, while understanding those two objectives are inextricably linked.

56% of UK CEOs consider a lack of trust to be a key threat to business. Trust and data go hand in hand. Personal information sits at the heart of the services we use daily to do everything from bank and shop, to travel and communicate. Sharing our own data can help us to receive a more bespoke and relevant service in everything from healthcare to entertainment. But the ease with which our information can be mined, stored and exchanged, means organisations have a critical duty to use and store it in a responsible manner and keep up with increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. The consequences of not doing that could well be catastrophic for an organisation’s reputation and even its ability to continue operating.

Consumers are also savvier than ever before when it comes to their rights and the risks related to their data. As such, their willingness to trust an organisation with their valuable data is highly dependent on its reputation.

Research published by the Information Commissioner’s Office in July 2019 found 56% of consumers are concerned about their online activity being tracked. This chimes with the underlying findings in our CEO survey which shows 57% of UK CEOs say growing public concern over data privacy is shaping their approach to cyber security.

Investing for success

To build trust, safeguard reputation and find competitive advantage from their data, businesses must invest and ensure they have the right people, or access to the right skills and capabilities.

Data protection officers, particularly, have an important role to play, and CEOs must recognise this. Their remit must span all operational departments and geographies of a company, because data protection has to be a firm-wide priority at all times.

But an understanding and appreciation of the value and sanctity of data should also be instilled in all teams and employees. Data is a commodity, but it’s easy for its value to remain untapped. Unlocking that value in a systematic and safe way has the potential to power massive commercial and societal progress, in everything from preventing or curing rare diseases to averting natural disasters.

We work with clients to help find, collate and process data in an ethical and intelligent way that complies with all regulations and enables them to become a true leader in their industry. By doing so we can help make businesses more practically resilient, but also more purpose-driven and therefore more trustworthy.

The first-mover advantage

In the past, the fear of legal repercussions, such as fines, may have been the primary incentive for keeping data secure. Today, the commercial upside of prioritising data security - and demonstrating an open, honest approach to data use - may actually generate real competitive advantage.

Increasingly, intangible assets - like data - are far more valuable to companies than tangible assets. It’s therefore paramount that businesses understand the importance of protecting data and of ensuring that consumers know that it’s protected.

A business might be able to enhance shareholder, employer and customer trust by showcasing in its quarterly results the resources and tools it has available to ensure its cyber defences are as solid as possible and that it has the cost effective controls around storage and management.

This provides further evidence that corporations have the opportunity to set a standard and lead by example, regardless of what the regulator may or may not have already done.

The pace of technological change means businesses can’t afford to just sit and wait for guidance from elsewhere when it comes to securing their data and ensuring they are using it ethically. Moving swiftly to keep ahead of potential risks is a strategy that will prove invaluable.

Many businesses will have the ability to be more agile and responsive than regulators when it comes to introducing policies and practices. There’s no reason they should wait for someone else to take the lead. There will certainly be a first-mover advantage, particularly when it comes to something as valuable as data.

For more on how your business can collect, protect and derive greater value from its data, contact one of our experts. Visit PwC's 23rd annual CEO Survey to find out what else is on the mind of UK CEOs. 

by Roland Sonnenberg Partner

Email +44 (0)7976 292063