PIE 2017: Building platforms, but who is buying a ticket?

David Reed, director of research and editor-in-chief, DataIQ

Swipe through the 30-odd apps on your mobile phone, right to that last screen you never really look at. Are any of them a platform that allows you to tell brands what products and services you are interested in, sharing relevant information on a one-time basis in the expectation of a personalised deal?

If that sounds like a good idea, it is - and one that over 500 different companies have already had. But when you notice that you have not yet enabled such an app for yourself, you will realise why none of those developments have yet proven successful.

It is not for want of effort and investment as this week’s PIE 2017 event, run by Ctrl-Shift, amply demonstrated. Just like the Open Data Institute Summit, it is the place to go if you want to be among fellow-believers and get a dose of feel-good about the concept of personal information management systems (PIMS). What you are less likely to get are examples of live ones with an engaged and profitable user base.

Liz Brandt, Ctrl-ShiftLiz Brandt, CEO of Ctrl-Shift, set out the reasons why PIMS, with the added boost of digital transformations and GDPR, look like the right solution for right now. “We are seeing a big change in consumer expectations and how businesses make margin. New eco-systems are forming around customer value opportunities and data is the route to new value.”

Her optimistic view of this Me2B economy involves provisioning “voice and choice” for individuals, creating new ways for them to put themselves on offer knowing that their data is protected and respected. In its studies of those hundreds of PIMS, Ctrl-Shift has identified 200 micro-services which have been trialled, out of which it found 12 possible revenue models (if monetisation is the goal). Critically, success requires working with multiple partners to create a multi-tenant platform which yields a network effect for users and their data. This challenges conventional business wisdom, as Brandt noted: “To survive in an eco-system, all have to succeed.”

“Our busiest branch is no longer Picadilly Circus, it is the 7.05 from Reading.”

The question is why none has yet managed to resolve this paradox of a great idea which nobody can get to work. Part of the issue is the lack of obvious utility beyond saving a few pounds. GOV.UK Verify could be one of the first systems to breakthrough, despite the criticism it has received, as it allows individual citizens to prove their identity once and then provide that proof to multiple government service providers. Sarah Munro, director of information propositions at Barclays, said she would “continue to wave the flag” for Verify because “identity is a natural inflection point for us.”

As the first UK bank to be one of the nine identity providers to the service, her faith in it is not just a reflection of invested effort, but also of a fundamental shift in customer behaviour. “Our busiest branch is no longer Picadilly Circus, it is the 7.05 from Reading,” she said.

Banking on the go throws up a variety of issues, including information security and identity validation. But it is going hand-in-hand with a different attitude towards money and banking which has been identified among Millennials who care less about a bank’s heritage and more about the experience they have.

To address this, Raman Batia, head of digital, Europe, for HSBC, said his unit is behaving like “an insurgent inside an incumbent,” working out how to develop and ship digital services and features faster. With 90% of its customer base engaging online - and the banking industry seeing 15% year-on-year falls in branch usage - this may look like simple survivalism. 

“We tested a nudge application with very personalised, salient messages to promote financial wellbeing."

But Batia said the new approach is a change in mindset, with HSBC partnering with start-ups to get new solutions. It has also embraced open culture. “We are going completely to open source. HSBC was also one of the first banks to publish an open data API for branch and ATM location,” he pointed out.

Critically, it has spotted a development path towards a potentially successful PIMS. “We tested a nudge application with very personalised, salient messages to promote financial wellbeing by comparing their spending behaviour with other customers. Some found that Orwellian, but the majority loved the fact that it was not just about our services.” 

Through a partnership with start-up Parity, HSBC Smart Zone allows customers to bring all of their accounts together in one place and the launch of Open Banking on 13th January will see the HSBC platform move out of beta and into live for all customers. In many respects, this embracing of new technology was already in the bank’s DNA, having launched First Direct as the first telephone bank back in 1990.

Open banking is a sector-specific initiative which is further replicated in the right to data portability enshrined in GDPR. The value of this right has baffled many and one view is that organisations will choose to make customer’s data machine readable using their own, rather than a commonly-shared standard in order to appear to be enabling it, but actually putting up an obstacle.

BBC is a little more forward-thinking than that as head of audiences, Nick North, explained. When it discusses with third-parties how they might carry its content, the broadcaster is adopting a principle of “no distribution without data”. In other words, if Netflix wants to make BBC shows available to its subscribers, it has to provide that viewing behaviour back to the corporation.

"If a file format doesn’t enable that sharing, it does not comply with the spirit of data portability.”

“It is all about data portability, developing iPlayer to take in data from Netflix or All4 so we can give better recommendations. If we can pull all of that together and learn something about our viewers, we can make better decisions,” he explained.

But as North pointed out, “we can’t do it alone.” Issues that need to be resolved for this kind of data sharing platform to work include what happens if an individual who is signed-in on the BBC iPlayer makes a request to be forgotten - how does it share that data with others in the eco-system? North also noted that, “if a file format doesn’t enable that sharing, it does not comply with the spirit of data portability.”

This picture of digital transformation, data revolution and multi-partner relationships was replicated across the entire day, whether companies are actively pursuing the vision of PIMS or just preparing for GDPR. While nobody yet knows where and when new money will come in, everybody believes it is worth investing in new business models now.

Stephen Deadman, FacebookNowhere is this more evident than at Facebook, lead sponsors of PIE 2017 and a partner of Ctrl-Shift. “As a company, if we are going to take action to advance faster, we need to lean on the collaborative body of wisdom to achieve that,” explained global deputy privacy director, Stephen Deadman. 

“Nothing is more transformative than getting ready for GDPR.”

He spelt out three key ways in which the company is doing that. Firstly, it is looking for new ways of creating value from data for all stakeholders by looking at emerging business models. Secondly, it is looking at new ways of bringing together the skills necessary to create trust, transparency and control. And thirdly, it is looking to leadership to step up and enable debate between policy makers, regulators and industry.

That second goal was in evidence during the conference itself with a mini design jam taking place to explore prototypes for new data and privacy controls. Facebook has been running these around the globe and will continue into next year as part of its preparation for the new data era. As Deadman made clear, “nothing is more transformative than getting ready for GDPR.”

In many respects, the Regulation has taken over as the focus for data transformation from any considerations of PIMS or open data. It seems to be occuring to companies that their investment into compliance could form the basis for new services and future profits. But to make that happen, as Deadman said, “companies need to involve courageous leaders, not leave it to their legal team. They need to take, own and drive it.”

Director of research and editor-in-chief, DataIQ
An expert commentator on all things data, David has been editor of DataIQ since its inception in 2011.

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