Data ethics starts at the top 

The way an organition handles its data says much about what it believes in and stands for. If organisations are to build trust and win business, CEOs and boards must lead the way.

Businesses — for the most part — are acutely aware of what they can and can’t do with data. And if they’re not, they should be.

From Cambridge Analytica to the $288M fine British Airways has incurred for failing to protect customer data — we’ve all seen what can go wrong if data is misused.

In this environment, compliance appears the hero for many; the key to staying out of trouble and the pathway to success.

But is it really?

Consumers today hold high expectations. And rightly so. They’re looking to do business with businesses that do good. Trust and transparency have never been more important, nor more valuable. This is why building trust in data practices starts not with the CIO or CDO, but rather at the top, with the CEO and the board.

Instead of ‘can we do it?’ leaders must first ask ‘should we do it’? They must look to their values — and those of their stakeholders and customers — to decide what’s ethical and what isn’t.

How long do we need to hold data? What do we genuinely need to capture? Does our data serve a real business purpose? Do we have consent? Where do we stand on selling data? When is it okay to do so? These are the types of questions leaders must ask.

Only when the board and executive can clearly articulate their stance can data be managed and systemised confidently, in a way that is consistent with the organisation’s values.

And with trust not only influencing consumer choice but serving as a purchase pre-requisite, defining an ethical framework isn’t just smart stakeholder management, it’s a must.

While compliance may save some from sticky situations and new technologies may initially impress, in the absence of supporting governance and ethical frameworks they are unlikely to yield the results CEOs expect from data.

Data, when done right, empowers and enables business strategy. It can be used to fulfil an organisation’s purpose, as well as an instrument for building understanding, persuasion and engagement. Smart CEOs know this.

Those who can demonstrate ethical practice will be those who win in the innovation and disruption game.

And while time remains a precious resource for any CEO, getting to know the organisation’s position on data and how it is handled is time well spent.

GWI Managing Partner and Chief Executive Officer Neil Makepeace

Neil Makepeace
Managing Partner and
Chief Executive Officer