elevenM Principal Arjun Ramachandran reflects on the explosion of “by design” methodologies, and why we must ensure it doesn’t become a catchphrase.

Things catch on fast in business.

Software-as-a-service had barely taken hold as a concept before enterprising outfits saw opportunities to make similar offerings up and down the stack. Platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service followed swiftly, then data-as-a-service.

Soon enough, the idea broke free of the tech stack entirely. There emerged CRM-as-a-service, HR-as-a-service and CEO-as-a-service.

“As a service” could in theory reflect a fundamentally new business model. Often though, simply appending the words “as a service” to an existing product gave it a modern sheen that was “on trend”. Today, you can get elevators-as-a-service, wellness-as-a-service and even an NFT-as-a-service.

A few days ago, I came across a hashtag on Twitter – #trustbydesign – that gave me pause about whether something similar was underway in an area closer to home to me professionally.

For those in privacy and security, the “by design” imperative is not new. Nor is it trite.

“Privacy by design” – in which privacy considerations are baked into new initiatives at design phase, rather than remediated at the end – is a core part of modern privacy approaches. In a similar way, “secure by design” is now a familiar concept that emphasises shifting security conversations forward in the solution development journey, rather than relegating them to bug fixes or risk acceptances at the end.

But could we be entering similar territory to the as-a-service crew? For those involved broadly in the pursuit of humanising tech, on top of privacy by design and secure by design there are now exclamations of safety by design, resilience by design, ethical by design, care by design, empathy by design and the aforementioned trust by design.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good spin-off. But as we continue to promote doing things “by design”, it’s worth keeping an eye to its usage and promotion, so it doesn’t become a hollow catchphrase at the mercy of marketing exploitation (for a parallel, see how some security peeps are now vigorously standing up to defend “zero trust”, a security approach, against assertions that it’s “just a marketing ploy”).

Doing things “by design” is important and valuable. It speaks to a crystalising of intent. A desire to do things right, and to do them up front. In fields like privacy and security, where risks have historically been raised late in the piece or as an afterthought (and sometimes ignored as a result), the emergence and adoption of “by design” approaches is a welcome and impactful change.

As “by design” catches on as a buzzword, however, it’s vital we ensure there’s substance sitting behind each of its variants. Consider the following two examples.

Privacy by design
Privacy Impact Assessments are a rigorous, systematic and well-established assessment process that provides structure and tangible output to the higher intent of “privacy by design”. Regulators like the OAIC endorse their use and publish guidance on how to do them. At elevenM, we live and breathe PIAs. Whether undertaking detailed gap analyses and writing reports (narrative, factual, checklist based, metric based, anchored to organisational risk frameworks, national or international), training clients on PIAs or supporting them with automated tools and templates, we’re making the assessment of privacy impacts – and therefore privacy – easier to embed in project lifecycles. 

Ethics by design
The area of data ethics is a fast-emerging priority for data-driven businesses. We’ve been excited to work with clients on ways of designing and implementing ethical principles, including through the development of frameworks and toolkits that enable these principles to be operationalised into actions that organisations can take to make their data initiatives more ethical by design.

At a minimum, a similar structured framework or methodology should be articulated for any “by design” philosophy.

A final consideration for businesses is the need to synthesise these “by design” approaches as they take hold. There’s some risk that these various imperatives – privacy, security, data governance, ethics – will compete and clash as they converge at the design phase. It’ll be increasingly vital to have teams with cross-disciplinary capability or expertise who can efficiently integrate the objectives and outcomes of each area towards an overall outcome of greater trust.

We leave the closing words to Kid Cudi: “And the choices you made, it’s all by design”.

If we can help you with your “by design” approaches, reach us at hello@elevenm.com

Photo by davisuko on Unsplash