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Building digital trust: Making the most of your information assets

Corporate success is increasingly reliant on information asset management. Jeffrey Ritter explains why building 'digital trust' can help.

The digital age has made information governance strategy inherent to a wide range of business processes, including economic success and regulatory compliance. This continued reliance on information assets and how they are managed forces a new look at IT architecture, says information management expert Jeffrey Ritter.

Jeffrey RitterJeffrey Ritter

In 2014, Ritter will be publishing a book that posits companies can realize new wealth by transforming IT architecture design and data governance processes. In this Q&A, he discusses how building "digital trust" is vital to these strategies.

Jeffrey, your book will describe a new IT architecture. What is wrong with our current way of building and using information technology?

Jeffrey Ritter: There are three key barriers to how we build technology to improve our businesses.

First, our rules are in silos: business rules, technology rules, data rules, security rules, and, most importantly, legal rules. Just like a building architect must navigate the building codes for electrical, plumbing, fire prevention and load limits, we have hobbled our IT builders and architects with silos of rules to be navigated. Redesigning our rules so they work together requires a new IT architecture. We are already seeing this transformation with data structures, but now we have to extend the process into these silos.

Second, we don't measure what we improve with enough accuracy to realize the full return on investment. We have learned in building improved e-discovery solutions that entire cost centers around finding information are being transformed far beyond legal spending. When we change our understanding of how improved design can increase the velocity of business, we can achieve better ROI.

Building digital trust will enable companies to focus on why they are in business: to create wealth.

Third, organizations are designed to avoid risks. Risk management is becoming a mantra for good IT architecture design; but, instead we should be designing to build, improve and increase the trust we place in our digital systems and, in turn, our digital information. My book forecasts the death of risk management as a business discipline and the birth of a new management focus on building digital trust.

What do you mean by digital trust?

Ritter: In business and in life, every decision to execute a transaction -- to buy, purchase, lease, acquire, hire a trainer at the gym or even just visit a website -- is an affirmative decision to trust. A company does not realize revenue when a customer says, 'They seem to manage their risks OK.' They make money when a customer says, 'I trust them to deliver the goods or services I need.'

The Internet has introduced us to an entirely new awareness of the importance of information to human decisions involving trust. Digital trust is the very human action of affirmatively deciding to trust a digital asset. Done properly, IT can be used to improve decision processes and enable us to navigate around untrusted information with greater efficiency.

In the final analysis, the next generation of innovation will be won by those tools and solutions and management processes, as well as IT architecture designs, that enable us to navigate the incredible volumes of accessible information to find the digital assets we can trust -- faster, better and with fewer wrong choices. That is digital trust.

You have told me that a key tool introduced in your book is the 'trust prism.' How will companies be able to use this prism?

Ritter: We all know when you shine white light through a prism you can see its component colors of the spectrum. The trust prism works the same way: It is a tool for evaluating existing information assets and systems that enables you to dismantle them and understand how well they advance, or inhibit, digital trust.

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Trust and digital trust are complex, but there is remarkable symmetry in how trust decisions are made. Just like a pyramid, the trust prism is built in layers that expose each layer of the trust decision process. But unlike a pyramid that is solid, the trust prism is transparent, allowing you to isolate and design improvements in the rules, the results, the risks and the resources involved.

The result is faster design capability, better marshaling of all of the rules from different silos into a unified rules model. This dramatically improves a company's governance of its information assets toward the key outcome of improving the trust that suppliers, customers and all of the stakeholders in their business systems -- including regulators -- place in their information.

So, how will improving digital trust improve a company's bottom line? After all, at the end of the day, it's about 'show me the money.'

Ritter: Wealth creation has to be the critical driver. But risk management constantly struggles because it is not creating new wealth, [it's] just protecting wealth being pursued or achieved with old, 20th century models. Building digital trust emphasizes how companies create new wealth by attracting new customers, increasing revenue from existing customers and creating velocity across those transactions because their information is more trustworthy.

Risk still needs management, but only as something that deducts from your investments in building digital trust. Building digital trust will enable companies to focus on why they are in business: to create wealth. For governments, the trust prism introduces a new model for protecting the public interest and transforming how and why we regulate business by focusing on the reliability and trustworthiness of their information.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, site editor. For more regulatory compliance news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ITCompliance.

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Has your organization adapted data management processes to ensure maximum benefit from information assets? If so, how?