Find the right 'moment of trust' to build your IT systems

A single moment when your end users trust what you have to say can make a big difference in whether they implement your advice.

By , ITworld |  IT Management

At the recent Ford Trends conference in June 2014 held at the company's Dearborn, Mich. headquarters I heard about the "moment of trust" from one of the presenters. It is a good term of art to refer to a lot of different concepts that many IT managers are wrestling with today, including creating big data models and increasing customer satisfaction.

Cynthia Czabala, who is the vice president, Data Services, for InterContinental Hotels Group, explained this concept. She was speaking about how her hotel group must get the relationship with its customers just right, so that they will become repeat visitors at their hotels. Given that they have more than 160 million annual guest stays worldwide, that is a lot to get right. They have found at their hotels here in the US, most customers just want to minimize their check-in time and get to their rooms quickly. But in China, guests want to be recognized by name and have specific preferences for how the minibar is stocked and other favorite items placed in their rooms.

Image credit: Flickr/Joi Ito

Czabala said that too often customers could have a very brief experience that can ruin their relationship: an hour-long call on hold dropped when transferred, or a surly employee that doesn't resolve an issue, or a room that hasn't been cleaned properly. Finding these moments of frustration and eliminating their causes is key to improving that moment of trust.

That got me thinking about IT managers having to find their moment of trust with their end users. Too often we lose sight about what end users really want either from their computing systems or the people who are charged with maintaining and protecting them. What happens when an end user brings in their personal cellphone or laptop to work and wants to run corporate apps? Do we tell them they can't or it isn't corporate policy or some other excuse? We have just blown this moment of trust.

Don't confuse the "moment of trust" with another concept called the "circle of trust" (made famous in the Meet The Parents movie). The circle concept involves a chain of ownership of your security or your data, and gets us away from focusing on this specific point in time when someone goes from not trusting us to being in our corner.

At the conference I also met privately with Michael Cavaretta, who wasn't one of the presenters but is someone who I have worked with in the past at Ford. He is a Data Scientist and manager of their predictive analytics group. He agreed that a moment of trust could also apply to what happens when IT builds a Big Data model or tries to analyze some trend. You must develop your model, test it to a particular dataset, and then sit back and interpret the results and see if they are meaningful or not for your particular use case. There is a moment of trust when all your work could be for naught as you realize that you built the wrong model, or didn't cleanse your data properly, or just did something stupid. It might not be obvious, and you might be so focused on the construction of your mathematical model that you lose sight of what you are really trying to analyze.

Granted, the process of mathematical modeling isn't new: people have been building mathematical models for decades. Indeed, Robert McNamara made the notion famous when he worked at Ford in the 1950s with his "whiz kids". But what is new is the amount of data is huge and the processes are so much more complex. Look at all the various tools that are part of the Hadoop ecosystem, a common Big Data data-modeling product.

Image credit: Hadoop/Apache Project

At the Ford conference, I also heard from IT managers at UPS and Mastercard about their own moments of trust. Sarah Quinlan, the Senior Vice President and Group Head of Market Insights at MasterCard Advisors, certainly knows about keeping track of data, especially on the millions of individual purchases that come across its network every day. MasterCard was asked by one luxury goods retailer to suggest its next store location, after its flagship Manhattan store had been open for some time. The retailer was thinking of London as its second store, but once Quinlan looked at overall consumer purchasing patterns, they found that luxury goods were on the decline in London and they would be better off to open the next store in Los Angeles. That was another moment of trust, and where Big Data could illustrate what was wrong with the London hypothesis and help the retailer avoid making a bad decision. Interestingly, Quinlan told us at the conference that nearly a fifth of all the world's luxury items are purchased in Manhattan!

UPS has more than 55,000 truck drivers worldwide. The company is developing a software routing tool called ORION or On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation, to help with optimizing its package deliveries. Chuck Holland, the VP for Industrial Engineering for the company, spoke at the conference about how they want to make it easier for customers to specify when and where packages are left, again to help improve that moment of trust. As someone who gets a lot of packages delivered by many different services, I can attest that UPS still has a way to go on this score.

Finally, we heard from Chief Executive Officer and founder of Civis Analytics Dan Wagner who put it this way: "Data is the best avenue to truth." What better way to establish trust than through truth-telling? Wagner worked as the chief analytics officer for the Obama 2012 campaign and helped craft its data analysis strategies. Working through various voter models on election day, he was ready to declare a win for his candidate by two o'clock in the afternoon. This was well before any of the polls had closed and before the TV networks are allowed to issue their own predictions. "Were we going to believe our models? Yes, but it was because we had done a lot of work ahead of time with controlled tests to understand the results that we were seeing," he said during his talk.

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