E-business: It’s a Matter of Trust

Lately there has been a number of incidents that have thrust the issues of privacy and security on the Internet and related IT environs into public view. The root of these issues is trust, and it seems to me that this will be one of the more significant challenges facing CIOs over the next while, especially as we all work hard to bring “service excellence” to our customers through Internet, intranet and extranet vehicles.

Whether you count the entire global population as your customer constituency or simply a handful of select business partners or fellow employees, none will do business electronically with you unless there is a feeling of absolute trust that their privacy and security will not be compromised. Personally, I know that there are many sites on the Web that I simply won’t deal with because I am not convinced that they will handle my personal data (e.g. VISA number) appropriately. For these folks my lack of trust costs them business.


Let’s look at the case of the “ZapMe network” as an example of how we in the Information Technology field are being drawn into this issue of trust. “ZapMe” is a private venture by a number of major hardware and software vendors whereby they donate equipment, applications and Internet access to schools throughout the USA. Although these vendors donate the equipment free of charge, they then monitor the students use of the equipment to determine patterns which they can use for developing targeted products for this age group.

This monitoring has created a huge controversy surrounding the issue of privacy within the educational community, and has created a market backlash for the donating companies. People simply don’t trust that these vendors are using the information gathered appropriately.

The example tendered by “ZapMe” is interesting because the donation of equipment to schools is certainly commendable, and the information being collected is fairly benign, but the more emotional issues surrounding trust have overwhelmed the positive aspects of the venture. What kinds of emotions do you think the customers of financial institutions feel when their account data becomes open to public view as a result of insufficient network security? I imagine that they are probably a little angry, certainly suspicious, and perhaps even feel betrayed.

Given recent events it is surprising that the banks appear to be doing the most laudable job convincing the consuming public that they deserve their trust. Recently the Canadian Bankers Association ran a series of “feel good” advertisements extolling the trustworthiness of their member institutions. mbanx, one of these Canadian banking institutions, is continually delivering the message to trust that your data is held secure, that it is not openly available within the bank and that online activities enjoy the ultimate in privacy technology. Pick up any of their brochures, or visit their Web site, and I think you will find the “trust me” message liberally splattered over everything they say. It may well be that mbanx is no better technically than their competitors, but for them the message has worked and they have posted tremendous growth in the online financial services field.

Lack of trust does not bode well as we strive to set up closer relationships with our customers using information as a service-level vehicle. Obviously trust has a direct impact upon the future viability of your business, and inevitably on your role as CIO. Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose. As CIOs we not only need to be aware of these concerns but also we must take a lead role in their resolution. How does your image stack up?

Greg Georgeff is a well known IT industry commentator, and former Vice-President of Information Services and CIO of Noranda Inc. He lives in Acton, Ont.