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Addressing The Technology-trust Balance

There is a growing dependency on technology to run businesses and deliver customer commitments. It is, therefore, time for companies to think more deeply about the challenges that lie ahead in using technology so that trust is preserved and improved

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Rachel Botsman, the first Trust Fellow at Oxford University, Saïd Business School, and author of Who Can You Trust? has an observation every business must ponder over. She says that “Money is the currency of transactions. Trust is the currency of interactions.” 

Trust is a crucial part of business and of life itself. Trust is also, worryingly, in free fall. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that trust in the governments of the US and China, two of the largest economies, is waning dangerously. Societal leaders tracked by the report—CEOs, journalists, and religious leaders—are no longer trusted by people to do what is right. And all sources of media, from social to traditional, are experiencing a trust deficit that is at an all-time low. Analysis has shown that businesses lose 30 per cent of their value when they lose trust. So it is vital to manage the trust. 

At the same time, managing trust has also become complex. There is a growing dependency on technology to run businesses and deliver customer commitments. It is, therefore, time for companies to think more deeply about the challenges that lie ahead in using technology so that trust is preserved and improved.

Trust can also become a powerful business tool. When practically everything has become commoditised, from products to services, trust can swing customer decisions. I am convinced that the cynicism and distrust induced by the pandemic, unemployment, racism, the tsunami of misinformation, and the propaganda pushed upon us by wars, has turned trust into a business superpower. It now provides a unique differentiator to propel growth. 

The value of trust is not new. Leaders have always known that their vision would not find buyers without trust. Let’s try to understand its place in modern business using a real-life example. Last February, the value of trust was amplified several times over when Australian mining giant Rio Tinto decided to proactively go public with a disturbing external report commissioned to identify sexual harassment, racism, and other forms of discrimination through the company. 

Most organisations would quail at the idea of washing their dirty linen in public. But the CEO of Rio Tinto apologised to every team member who had suffered because of the errant behaviour of certain employees, saying, “This is not the kind of company we want to be.” Most would be nervous about making such a disclosure because of the impact it would have on the brand, stock prices, and the organisation's ability to retain and draw talent. But Rio Tinto’s CEO wisely decided that building trust was necessary, regardless of the cost. The company is now working to prevent and respond to unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. It wants to be a genuinely trusted company. 

Trust has become a top ingredient for success in today’s business environment. Trust has grown beyond the quality of a product or service or the maintenance of SLAs. An organisation must now demonstrate that it will go beyond the goal of maximising profit. Consumers interact more often and transact more easily with the brand when this happens. The alchemy of trust is that customers will pay a premium for a reliable, honest, and responsible brand. 

However, the nature of managing trust is changing. For example, technologies such as Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) deliver excellent operational and productivity benefits but are also becoming the reason for users being apprehensive about their privacy and security. Time and again, businesses have used customer data in ways that have eroded trust. The tech industry is being affected by this. The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that trust in the tech industry is at an all-time low. Last year, it was the most trusted sector in the US. This year it has dropped to ninth place.

The tech industry is plumbing new depths in 17 countries, including South Africa, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, and Japan (fortunately, technology is trusted in developing markets like India, Indonesia, and Mexico). As digital transformation accelerates, applications that rely on Big Data, AI, automation, the Internet of Things (IoT), algorithmic decision-making, etc., could make businesses untrustworthy if not used correctly. Keeping trust at the centre of all digital transformation by securing data, seeking permission to use it, allowing the data owners to decide what they share and what they do not, and giving them complete control over their data to drive experience is critical. 

Let’s quickly see what trust means in a world where technology is just one right swipe away. Within barely a decade, our trust for autonomous vehicles has grown strong. Over the last two decades, we have come to trust our mobile phones to an extent we do not even realise. We use it for all kinds of sensitive interactions and transactions. Of course, we need technologies like blockchain to keep things within the guardrail in an end-to-end distributed ecosystem—but such decentralised technologies are making faceless networks commonplace and our trust in them more robust.  

Does your company have a model for building trust? Does your organisation consciously use technology, so it promotes trust? Do you let users know how their data is kept secure and reliable? Do you let users know how your self-learning algorithms function? Do you have processes in place for complete disclosure if a data breach occurs? Do you have a way of identifying misinformation, stopping its flow, and countering it? Do you proactively alert users to suspicious activity related to their accounts and work? These are just some of the questions businesses will have to start answering as digital transformation becomes all-pervasive. 

Organisations will soon have the equivalent of a Department of Digital Trust or a Digital Trust Council. But, for the moment, the sooner business leaders formalise and prioritise the idea of addressing trust in technology, the better they will sleep. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Technology-trust Balance

Pradeep Kar

The author is Microland's Founder, Chairman and Managing Director, setting the foundation for excellence as Microland guides enterprises in adopting nextGen technologies to achieve the highest possible levels of reliability, stability, and predictability.

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