A matter of trust

Building trust is a core requirement for establishing new relationships, especially in an online environment. Equating online trust solely with underlying security requirements -- authenticating users or Web sites and ensuring the confidentiality and validity of online interactions -- is a mistake. Trust must also include nontechnical issues.

In the past, establishing trust and forging partnerships have been staff-intensive processes involving meetings, site visits, and inspections. As trade and sourcing become increasingly global, these processes not only become more expensive but also more time-consuming. As companies go virtual, they should focus their trust-building efforts on specific areas.

Assess the strategic and risk implications of each relationship and carry out trust activities appropriate for that level. Assess lower-risk opportunities by relying more heavily on automated services offering business verification, credit scores, financial evaluations, and performance ratings. For strategic relationships, augment the trust services with more-intensive staff involvement.

Leverage existing relationships first. Work with those partners to increase the responsiveness and adaptability of your relationship through tighter process integration, increased collaboration, and better information system links.

Avoid coercive, one-way relationships. Configure partnerships so both parties will benefit from initial pilot efforts. Then, build incrementally on the initial trust established during the pilot.

Suppliers should develop and publicize their trust credentials to become more attractive as partners. Accelerate trust-building by making it easier and faster for potential partners to verify trustworthiness. Some examples are simplifying access to internal and third-party information to speed up the due-diligence process; standardizing contractual terms and conditions; and preparing third-party providers of trust-supporting services to be sure they understand your company and are to offer services to potential trading partners.

Buyers should publish trust-related requirements for evaluating trading partners. Examples include organizational size minimums, required sales volumes, credit ratings, and geographic coverage. For example, Cisco Systems posts on its Web site the requirements for becoming one of its channel partners.

As trade becomes increasingly global, enterprises must develop more effective processes for rapidly establishing trust at all stages of relationship building. Many business relationships can no longer be sealed with a handshake. Potential business partners need to augment experience-based trust mechanisms with new, faster methods enabled by IT. Enterprises must understand the elements of business trust and follow the recommended guidelines to ensure their trust-building processes are robust enough to allow them to succeed in an increasingly boundaryless environment.

Barb Gomolski is a research director at Gartner, a Stamford, Conn.-based research firm. Send her e-mail at barbaragomolski@earthlink.net.

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