Your personal data will soon be yours


Consumers’ desire and ability to aggregate and utilise their own data will come into focus in the year ahead. Businesses are experiencing the market backlash from the “downsides” to consumers of the heavy investment in online marketing – which makes them feel like they are being watched at every turn. And the media coverage of NSA contractor Edward Snowden throughout 2013 has further highlighted the issue about the nature of the data is being collected and used.

Developing a customer focused strategy and evolving an entire digital customer experience journey is becoming essential for the profitability and even survival of many businesses. But they need to be aware of how public opinion is shifting in respect of online privacy and personal data utilisation. This is why the developments in personal cloud technology and movements such as VRM, championed by the legendary internet commentator Doc Searls, are so interesting.

At the heart of the personal cloud movement is the concept that all of the data the you and I create as we go about our daily lives is actually our property. Currently the consumer has no ownership and usually no visibility over this information. The personal cloud is place where people can aggregate, curate and utilise that data. It is a place on the internet they can truly call their own. Unlike cloud storage facilities such as DropBox, the personal cloud is more like a virtual computer created to manage an individual’s online life. I recently spoke to Joe Pine, the author of the Experience Economy and TED presenter. We discussed the personal cloud movement and he commented that “People no longer want ads targeted at them. Companies need to use the information they gain from individual consumers to benefit those same consumers.”

Sitting at the forefront of the personal cloud movement is Dr Phil Windley based out of Utah. He has developed a personal cloud operating system, CloudOS, that allows these concepts to come into existence. He has developed technology from the ground up to give consumers the ability to store and use their own data. It is the internet of things with yourself at the centre.

Personal clouds give the consumer autonomy and power in the “data exchange” relationship. And that is of vital importance for business leaders. Adopting this technology, understanding the philosophy behind it, and becoming comfortable with using the technology to develop a relationship with customers, changes the current paradigm. The customer’s data is no longer the source of value to businesses who adopt this paradigm. What matters instead is their willingness to allow a relationship to develop.

This is a very different world from the data-driven marketing one currently dominated by Google and Facebook. It redirects the investment that many brands have made into data driven “surveillance” style marketing (much of which had done more long-term harm than good) towards customer relationships. In this world commercial dominance is not gained through control and manipulation. Instead the most valuable asset is the trust and respect of your market. In this environment good-will can be quantified and valued. It puts pressure on companies to spend less on “interruption” marketing and focus instead on delivering digital services that provide real value.

Technology naturally plays an important part in this market transformation, but while personal clouds seem like a likely catalyst for change putting technology first is usually a mistake. It is more important to develop a strategic approach that will allow your business to innovate and take advantage of these technologies as they mature. To quote Joe Pine again “Consumers are becoming orchestrators of their own experience, determining what to do when, and personal clouds are making that happen.” A well designed and managed a customer experience builds trust. Getting this right will be a top strategic priority for many companies in the coming months.

Yet again technology is generating a market shift and it is giving more power to the individual. Like every technology has evolved to directly benefit consumers when the time is right it will be adopted quickly. The rapid rise of social media saw some organisations taken by surprise and other benefit. The same will happen in the case of personal clouds.

Which camp will your company fall into?

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