Interview: Ethics and its role in building trust through the value chain

Article
20 December, 2018
Trust is an increasingly valuable asset to any business, and the ethical stance of any organization is central to the relationship with key stakeholders. We caught up with Ray Mauritsson, Axis President and CEO, and Johan Paulsson, our Chief Technology Officer, to get their perspectives on ethics and trust.

As someone wise once said, trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair. In the commercial world, trust is essential – we will only do business with those we trust, and we will only be successful ourselves if people trust us – and increasingly seen as a critical and tangible corporate asset.

The examples of where damaging the trust between a business and its customers, partners or shareholders has a direct negative impact on business value and performance are numerous. There are many elements to how trust is built (and broken), and the ethical behavior of an organization is increasingly influential, particularly in relation to technology, security, and environmental sustainability.

Here, Ray Mauritsson and Johan Paulsson talks about how ethics and trust affect different aspects of business, technology and Axis itself.

How do you see the relationship between ethical behavior and trust in business?

Ray Mauritsson: In my view, it’s absolutely central and a direct relationship. Our business has grown through long-term relationships with customers and partners built on open, transparent, ethical business practices. But it’s unique to every organization and to its customers and other stakeholders. Some sectors are perhaps less sensitive to ethical issues than the security industry. But for me, it’s non-negotiable.

Johan Paulsson: I agree. What’s interesting to me, as a technologist, is how much the ethics of any organization are increasingly related to factors associated with technology. For instance, it seems that one of the fastest ways to lose trust in a business these days is if it fails to protect a customer’s data or is found to be using that data in a way that customers feel uncomfortable about. There isn’t a business in the world which shouldn’t be thinking about the ethical implications of its use and development of technology.

And how does this manifest itself at Axis?

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We have processes in place to ensure that our suppliers align with our own values and expectations, such as supplier audits.

Ray Mauritsson: The easiest thing is to point to industry and international regulations that define how we have to operate and our adherence to those. But to us that’s a baseline, a hygiene factor. ‘Doing the right thing’ and “doing good” needs to be in a company’s DNA, and it certainly is at Axis. So, in every area of our business we think long term and set standards for ourselves that go beyond what is legally required. This includes our financial practices, employee codes of conduct, sustainability, our use and storage of data, and a number of other areas. But it’s not only about our own business. Axis is within a long supply chain, and if any link in that doesn’t meet the standards we set for ourselves, it could damage the trust we’ve built, so we also have processes in place to ensure that our suppliers and partners align with our own values and expectations.

Johan Paulsson: We talk about ‘technology with responsibility’, a mantra that can be applied at a number of levels, from the existential to the executional. As a company that’s been developing technology for more than 30 years, we’re very aware of the positive impact it can bring, but equally the issues that come with an incredibly rapid pace of innovation. Take Artificial Intelligence for example. The potential for AI across every industry sector is enormous, from healthcare to transportation; from security to finance. But it also raises important ethical questions. Just because we can do something, doesn’t always mean we should do it. A critical part of acting ethically is constantly asking that question. This is something that’s highlighted in the content of The Copenhagen Letter. At a more fundamental level, when it comes to manufacturing our products, we need to be confident that every component meets the standards we set for quality and sustainability. Confidence comes through clear sight of every aspect of our products, down to the analysis of specific materials and their origin in electronic components.

Axis works in a sensitive area and creates products that are used for security and surveillance. Once in the hands of a customer, how do we ensure that our products are used in a way that aligns to our mission of creating a ‘smarter and safer’ world?

Ray Mauritsson: That’s a great question, and one that is a key priority for us. There are a number of things we do to ensure that our products are used for purposes that support the mission. Firstly, we’re very clear about the specific purpose and use case for every product we bring to market, communicate that explicitly to our partners, and actively participate in the sales process. Training and education of our channel partners is another important initiative to ensure correct understanding of the purpose of our offerings. We will also take proactive decisions regarding who we will and will not sell to, and in which countries, in an effort to prevent our products being used in ways that we believe are unethical. Business opportunities that seems to present a gray area in its ethical use of our products – which is very rare – is escalated to an internal ‘ethical council’ for discussion and agreement.

From a technological perspective, Johan, what are your key concerns about where ethical lines are potentially being crossed?

Johan Paulsson: I mentioned data earlier, and certainly from a broad awareness perspective, I think this is one of the highest-profile areas of ethical concern. How an organization – whether private or public – captures, stores, uses, shares and secures personal data, is a critical issue for every individual on the planet. Legislation such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have highlighted the requirement to protect data (including in relation to video surveillance), but it is those instances where organizations have been found to be using personal data in ways that consumers aren’t happy about, or failing to protect data, which have brought the issue to greater public consciousness.

Axis CTO Johan Paulsson talking about ethics and trust in the surveillance industry

Looking at data from another perspective, however, we’re seeing a trend towards solutions adapted to very specific customer needs and challenges which, of course, requires us to see and study their data. Again, the relationship of trust between Axis and our customers which allows them to feel comfortable in sharing data – and as a result getting a better solution – is fundamental.

Ultimately, data is incredibly valuable, to businesses, governments, and criminal organizations. We should all be concerned about where our data is, and how it is used. And as an organization, we need to be open and transparent about our own practices, particularly as cloud-based services play an increasing role in our business.

Since 2010, Axis has published an annual Sustainability Report which highlights activities and initiatives related to business conduct, environmental and social responsibility. The latest version of the report can be found here.