It is hard to imagine any business that does not rely on the connectivity of the internet in some shape or form, and to its great advantage, Scotland is seizing the entrepreneurial opportunities offered up by online services and digital tech to the tune of £5.7 billion and more.
At the same time, no one is blind to the challenges. Business, government and industry bodies are acutely aware that cybercriminals threaten the security of the digital economy, which suffers with each high-profile attack.
So have we got the balance right? While the possibilities of new technology continue to excite, digital trust is currently extremely precarious, putting significant business value at risk. And this is not just a Scottish issue but a global one. Recent international research found 79 per cent of businesses are adopting new and emerging technologies faster than they can address related security issues.
At Accenture, we have been exploring what it would mean to take a different approach towards building trust and restoring security to the digital economy. In particular, we have looked at what corporate leaders working collaboratively could achieve.
Firstly, business leaders are in a unique position to help secure the digital economy by taking a lead on internet governance and stewardship. Banding together, it is in their power to create a code of ethical conduct for each industry and principle-based standards for internet security.
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Increased digital fragmentation, fuelled in part by security concerns, could by itself stunt future global economic growth. Yet we also know that we learn more about all aspects of cybercrime by sharing experiences quickly and robustly. By joining forces with other CEOs, public sector leaders and regulators, corporate leaders can develop much-needed guidelines and oversight mechanisms that help everyone. Look at what the Scottish Business Resilience Centre has achieved and multiply it.
Secondly, a new, top-down proactive approach to cyber risk is the route to safeguarding the business and supply-chain ecosystem. Our TechVision research found that as many as seven out of ten businesses may be particularly vulnerable to malicious attacks through their ecosystems, with 56 per cent relying on trust alone that security standards are in place. Security matters also permeate partner organisations who could become the source of a leak or breach.
Risk-management should be a standing item on any board’s agenda. As a matter of corporate policy, before anything new – a partnership, integration project or technology rollout – the head of security has to consider the risk to the business.
Security then becomes embedded into the business architecture and not simply an “add-on”. CEOs should articulate a vision of “security-by-design” from the earliest stages of development. Thirdly, corporate leaders need to embrace leading-edge technologies that support a secure internet and address the vulnerabilities of internet technology.
To some, the technical deficiencies of internet infrastructure are the “elephant in the room”. But with the guidance that our research provides, business leaders can exert their influence to address these issues. This is a dynamic, changing environment and old school thinking only solves old problems. The stakes, too, are high. Scotland has nearly 11,000 companies operating in the digital economy, employing 83,000 people.
Globally, we’ve found that a trusted digital economy could stimulate 2.8 percent in extra growth for large organisations over the next five years, translating into $5.2 trillion (£4.1tn) in value-creation opportunities for society as a whole. CEOs are able to capitalise on this opportunity and build a new digital economy on a foundation of trust. They need to harness the power of collaboration, embed a security-by-design approach and back the tech firms innovating in cyber security.
Michelle Hawkins is joint MD of Accenture, Scotland.