Trust: easy to lose, hard to recover

Here are just a few of the topics that my fellow Freeformers and I have enjoyed researching and writing about in recent years: network security, SD-WAN, digital identity, smart wallets, digital signatures, IoT, risk management and remote working.

At first sight, these are only tenuously inter-connected. But look deeper and there is something that is all too often skipped over or forgotten, yet is vital to all of them – foundational, in fact: digital trust.

Digital trust is the confidence we have in our security, safety and privacy online. Without trust in our networks, devices and other digital systems, how could we work from home, use a cash machine or payment card, go web shopping or – as is increasingly common – sign contracts and other legal documents online?

Trust is also vital to brands and the like, and it’s here that the first lesson of the headline is easiest to see: trust is easy to lose but hard to recover.

Loss is slow at first, then suddenly fast

It is a bit more complicated than that, though. One of the most thought-provoking new bits of thinking in this area is the trust thermocline. Most often used in an ocean context, a thermocline is where two layers of – in this case – water with different temperatures meet, but do not mix. Move through the boundary and the temperature can suddenly and significantly fall or rise.

In a trust context it refers to something slightly different. This is the way in which a trusted brand or vendor, whether it’s into sneakers, switches or software, can eke away its own advantage, with customers and users accepting gradually rising prices and declining product quality. After all, it’s painful to change – or to admit that you made the wrong choice.

Passing the tipping point in a non-linear system

This resistance to change encourages many to think of customer and user experience in linear terms. But in fact there’s a tipping point. You push people too far and they snap, suddenly recognising that they’ve been taken for granted or for a ride, or that they’ve missed out on better, safer, options elsewhere. They’re ready to change, and when they change they’re not coming back.

All this is as true for digital applications, services and systems as it is for physical brands, which makes it more important than ever to manage digital trust properly. Its foundational role in any digitally-enabled organisation should put it front and centre in both digital transformation and in IT and IT security more generally.

Indeed, perhaps it is even time to rethink a few job titles and roles. After all, when so much is dependent on a strong foundation of digital trust, especially in the context of security, should CISOs be transitioning to CDTOs?

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