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Digital business - risk, reward and governance

04 Sep 2019

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This blog is the final in a series of four. The author, Kate Carruthers, is Head of Data Governance and Business Intelligence at UNSW. She has deep experience in enterprise digital and social media and has delivered solutions across the public and private sectors.

Business context

The big shifts arising from the digital revolution include:

  • Democratisation of communication with consumers obtaining power via social media and social networks
  • An inversion of power relationships between consumers and businesses resulting from the democratisation of communication
  • The means of communication and distribution shifts from the few big players to anyone with a computer or smartphone and an internet connection
  • Growth in peer-to-peer applications and networking – for example Uber
  • Growth in mobile and tablet usage overtaking desktop computers

These have led to the evolution of a mobile generation that assumes that they can have access to any resources online, on-demand, in real-time, from anywhere, and on any device. And it is important to realise that this mobile generation is not a group bonded by age – a 7 year old or a 70 year old can both be part of the mobile generation.

Workforce changes

The digital revolution is also driving changes in the workforce, and new ways of working are emerging, such as co-working and collaboration. Technology is enabling increased decentralisation of the workforce and this is accompanied by much shorter change and innovation cycles.

Coupled with these changes are issues with boundaries between public and private; between personal and business. Technology such as smartphones is blurring the boundary between personal and work. Many of us answer a work email after hours on our smartphone or tablet. With this blurring between roles it will be increasingly difficult to establish role clarity. And this means that team members need to be able to manage through ambiguity and across functional lines.

And, taken together all of these shifts mean that businesses are facing a different risk landscape to that of the pre-digital age. 

Information as an asset

Another key shift is in the value of data and information. This means that data and the insights provided by data will drive competitive advantage for businesses that can master analytics and information management. Therefore it will become necessary to manage and value data as a business asset. No longer will data just be a thing that lives on the IT servers and nobody really thinks about. We are emerging into the age of ‘big data’, where big data can be leveraged for competitive advantage.

Both internal information - about customers, business operations, and staff – and external information - about consumers, markets, and competitors - will become a part of the data landscape. And data will be used by smart businesses to drive growth and to mitigate risk.

Information security

This increasing reliance on data means that organisations will need to consider how best to manage their data so as to comply with regulations and to secure and protect organisational information from cyber-attacks. From Instagram being hit by two privacy breaches in a week to Microsoft security patches for remote desktop services vulnerability, information security must be a priority for companies moving forward.

The US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation explains that:
“In addition to preparing for natural disasters and other physical threats, business continuity now also means preserving access to customer data and the integrity and security of that data in the face of cyber-attacks.”

Key starting points for managing online risk

Information is the critical foundation for managing risk. It is important to understand what is being said online about your business and it is increasingly important to monitor competitors too. Governance of digital business is something that many businesses fail to consider.

Some important steps to ensuring that your business is digital ready include:

  • Assign responsibility for social channels. Ensure that it is an executive responsibility and not merely left to an intern to manage.
  • Include social media in your digital strategy. Ensure that the digital strategy supports the overall business strategy, and link the digital strategy to the marketing strategy.
  • Ensure cross media planning is in place. This is important so that messaging from different areas of the business do not cut across each other, and it makes it easier to manage compliance, for example with privacy legislation.
  • Develop mechanisms to track progress. Determine what management reporting is required for the executive and management teams to understand what is going on with the digital parts of the business.
  • Setup monitoring of all online activity. This will enable data driven decision making about the online business activities.
  • Ensure that personnel working in the area get the right training and develop relevant skills. Most social media disasters result from untrained people looking after social media channels who failed to understand the ramifications of what they are doing.
  • Setup an online risk management plan. It is important that the risk management plan includes a social media disaster response plan.
  • Develop internal policy and guidelines relating to digital business, including social media and other online channels. This is important so that staff know beforehand what is and is not acceptable behavior in relation to these channels. It should also deal with personal use of social media and online channels by staff. This will mitigate risks related to staff where their use of online channels in a personal capacity impacts upon the business.
  • Backup and security are now key capabilities required to protect the data assets of an organisation. If your business does not have these skills in-house then it is imperative to secure the services of a competent supplier to address this business requirement.

The challenges

The modern business faces new challenges that did not exist in the pre-digital world. Now a business must create and manage loosely connected networks mediated via digital platforms and social media. It must also grow a business in a networked world, where control is distributed to consumers in ways that did not exist previously. Further, the business must engage people so they want to know more about the products and brands, and to drive sales conversations. All of this needs to be done with a focus outwards to customers while simultaneously protecting your brand in a fast-paced world.

Managing risk while building a digital business is an important skill for organisations to develop, and agile governance is a business discipline that is evolving to address this need. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the executive team to ensure that risk is managed effectively to protect both the business and its customers in the changing digital landscape.

Read the rest of the series

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