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Inspire: Trust and technology’s inflection point

It was 22 minutes into Brad Smith’s CoreNote presentation at this year's MIcrosoft Inspire and I had a lump in my throat.

“I think when historians look back, they will say that the 15th of March, 2019 was an inflection point for technology,” said Smith, Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer, as he displayed an NPR report on the Christchurch mosque shootings on the massive screen above him in the Las Vegas stadium where Microsoft’s top executives were kicking off Inspire 2019.  

“It was a terrible day, not just for the victims and their families, but for the people of New Zealand and the entire world,” Smith continued.

As he spoke I had a flashback to that Friday afternoon in March when I learnt of the horrific attack in Christchurch. For any New Zealander, it was one of our blackest days and we certainly felt the shock and pain in a particularly personal way at Intergen.

One of our colleagues, Syed Jahandad Ali, a Dynamics developer based in Christchurch, lost his life in the attack that day. For the Kiwis in the audience at Inspire, mention of the mosque attacks triggered some strong emotions.

Christchurch Call

But through the grief, we also felt pride. As Smith pointed out, barely 60 days after the attack, our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was in Paris alongside France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, to host the Christchurch Call, which saw Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon and other major tech companies, commit to doing their part alongside the governments of 18 countries to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

“We need to step up and assume more responsibility,” Smith acknowledged in Las Vegas.

“When the industry was young, maybe it made sense to move fast and break things, but no more. The issues are too big, the technology is too powerful.”

That was the resounding message from Inspire for me this year. Sure, there were important new partner-related developments in Microsoft products from Teams and Dynamics 365, to Azure and Microsoft Cloud.

But the theme from the top end of town was all about trust. As Smith pointed out, trust is something Microsoft and any tech company has to earn from its customers. As a Microsoft partner, Intergen and our parent company Empired, are trusted by hundreds of large customers across Australasia to help them deliver their digital services to their own customers, securely and effectively.

When tech is weaponised

But the threats to our infrastructure, digital services and the data they generate, are greater than ever. Yes, there are increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks to think about. Today we see platforms that were designed for good, designed to connect communities, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have also increasingly been weaponised to spread hate and misinformation.

Every company is now having to take a large look at its own data use policies to make sure they are in the best interests of the customers who have agreed to share that data.

I came away from Inspire determined to make these issues priority topics of discussion with customers. I congratulate those organisations who are grasping the extent of their responsibilities here but the reality is that for most companies, they simply aren’t front of mind. Cybersecurity is something that exists somewhere, outsourced and data is too often considered a valuable commodity, the more of which can be gathered, the better.

And with the mass collection of data comes the inevitable question, how can we capitalise upon it? There are instances globally where organisations are forging ahead with the use of powerful artificial intelligence tools without considering if it even should be used.

Hardening security to meet new threats and performing intrusion detection testing can be expensive. Re-evaluating data collection policies can meet resistance and even annoyance within the organisation.  But the bottom line is that we need to devote more time and attention to these issues or we risk losing the trust of our users.

Leveraging security tools

Part of the answer is playing our role as responsible partners in the Microsoft ecosystem. As one of the world’s largest software companies, Microsoft has many tools in place, from privacy dashboards for consumers, to diagnostic data tools, Trust Centre, and the increasingly sophisticated tools within Azure Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) to help users tackle these issues.  If you haven’t heard of Zero Trust, I would encourage you to read this blog on Zero Trust which helps articulate the challenges we face of an ‘open internet’.

We need to make the most of the tools that are already available to us and make sure that our customers understand them and are confident using them.

We also need to be supportive of new initiatives designed to shore up trust in technology. At Inspire, Smith talked about ElectionGuard, Microsoft’s free, open-source offering, which is designed to protect modern electronic voting machines as part of its Defending Democracy programme. This is just one example where technology is transforming an area where trust is paramount.

Real behaviour change

Finally, we all have to play our part in efforts to bring about real behaviour change to support better outcomes for users of technology. In April 2018, Microsoft helped initiate the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, with the aim of advancing online security and resiliency around the world. Currently there are 106 major tech companies from 22 countries who have pledged to protect their users and customers through enhanced cybersecurity.

When the European Union introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2017 to afford stronger data protections to consumers, Microsoft was one of the first tech companies that chose to extend those protections to its customers worldwide.

It is great to see Microsoft take centre stage in many of these global efforts, including standing behind our Prime Minister as a signatory to the Christchurch Call.

As a Microsoft partner, we have the responsibility of looking beyond our day to day workloads to build in the best security capability we can for our customers, to uphold the basic human right of privacy and reflect on the needs and wishes of end users in the data models and algorithms that we create.

I agree with Brad Smith – Christchurch was an inflection point in technology. The tragedy hit close to home for us, but this is an opportunity for us all to do our bit to make sure people trust that technology will only be used to enrich the lives of current and future generations.


This blog is part of the #Inspire series. For more experts' insights, clients' experiences, click the banner.

#Inspire blog series

Posted by: James Page, Practice Director Partners, Alliances & Channels | 03 September 2019

Tags: Data Analytics, Data Insights, Security, #Inspire, Trust

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