Trust, privacy and security are all vitally important issues when discussing data. But to my mind, these debates often overshadow the huge benefits that the responsible use of quality data brings to organisations, individuals and wider society.
Undoubtedly, horror stories arising from data breaches make great headlines. But this media fixation has, in some corners of society, created a moral panic that any data that we share as consumers will be exposed and used for nefarious means. This simply isn’t the case. I cannot be the only one thinking that those representing our industry should be taking more responsibility to educate consumers and the media as to the many benefits of responsible data sharing in our daily lives.
The truth is that, in our modern world, sharing data has become a pre-requisite. Social media simply could not exist if we, as a species, did not have an innate desire to share. Data - or to be more specific the information, knowledge and insight that can be derived from it (whether it is personal or anonymous) - makes all of our lives easier.
For example, I recently returned from holiday and, as soon as I switched on my phone as we arrived at the gate (as everyone does!), I was greeted with an SMS from my mobile provider welcoming me back to the country. When I collected my car and started the journey home, GoogleMaps was a lifesaver. The red line that you see on-screen when you are about to set-off, showing you the volume of traffic on the road, is generated by real-time crowd-sourced data from peoples’ smartphones. It is a fantastic example of data sharing where everyone gains or, as David Cameron would perhaps say, ‘the big society’ in action.
Upon arrival at home, I was soon greeted by my grocery delivery that I had ordered before my holiday. It was made so much quicker and easier by my supermarket having on-record all of my favourite and most frequently-purchased items. I also saved some money, as it recommended some products based on others I had bought that were on offer.
That one afternoon brought home to me just how powerful data can be in making life better, when responsible organisations use it in the right way.
For many, one of the defining moments in sharing customer data came in the grocery sector in 1995, when Tesco launched Clubcard with the help of dunnhumby, paving the way for countless other loyalty schemes. The contract between Tesco and its customers was clear. If customers were willing to share their purchasing data, they would be rewarded with points that they could redeem, as well as exclusive offers and personalised recommendations.
Prior to Clubcard, loyalty schemes such as Green Shield Stamps (for those of you old enough to remember them) were simply a sales promotion to encourage return visits. However, with advances in computing power and the ability to capture, store and analyse data, far more engaging programmes could be rolled out.
Today, much of the mail I receive through my door or in to my inbox is targeted and increasingly highly-personalised and, for me, that is a very good thing. It engages me more, makes me feel more valued and, in turn, much more likely to read and respond, making it great news for the organisation that is sending it to me. As a result of the effective way in which these organisations use data, it also throws in to sharp contrast those organisations that are not doing it. If company X can get it right, why can’t company Y?
Data sharing works well when all parties stand to gain something from the process. When the UK government mooted plans to introduce a national identity card scheme, there was a public outcry from many parts of society. However, I would wager that inside many of their purses and wallets lurk a plethora of loyalty cards telling organisations more than the government could ever wish, hope or need to know!
When data is used well, it is seamless and we all benefit from it without knowing. It is inevitable that, in a data-driven world, there will be incidents where things go wrong. But that should not mean we all rush to opt-out as, without data, the world would be a much harder place in which to live and work.