Economists may have been schooled by the Queen back in 2008 for missing the financial crisis and have been forced again to apologise for their doom-laden post-Brexit predictions, but that is no reason to avoid some casual forecasting for the data industry. So here are five possible trends which could emerge over the next 12 months.
ePrivacy goes large
If 2016 was spent understanding the implications of the General Data Protection Regulation, then 2017 will be lived in the shadow of a review of the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications. The first internet-age laws to have been drafted back in 2002, the last update came in 2009 with the much-resisted “cookies law”. A major revision has clearly been needed to catch up with big data and prepare for the internet of things (IoT).
Perhaps confusingly, the existing directive has been known in the UK as the Privacy in Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), but the original European law was only ever a directive. That meant each EU nation was free to introduce its own flavour of its requirements. A draft leaked in December 2016 makes it clear that the update will be a genuine Regulation with every EU state required to introduce national law that follows it to the letter.
An open question is whether a new ePrivacy Regulation will arrive after the UK triggers Article 50 to start Brexit. One view is that the EU will fast-track the new Regulation so it gets enforced from May 2018, just like GDPR. If that does not happen, the changes may not be adopted here. But some freshening of PECR will certainly be needed.
If the leaked version is genuine, then the new Regulation will align with GDPR in terms of its reach and consequences, such as fines up to 4% of turnover. Headline-grabbing extensions are its application to over-the-top internet services - think Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype - which have strongly resisted being regulated in this way. Even more significant is a likely extension to machine-to-machine data which will see most IoT services birthed into a regulated environment, rather than the free-for-all of personal information in digital channels which regulators have been trying to catch up to.
B2B dodges a bullet
Both GDPR and PECR only ever apply to natural persons, which many B2B marketers have used as cover for unpermissioned data use about legal persons (ie, corporations) and, by extension, the people working for them, especially if targeted by role.
The ePrivacy review continues to give B2B this by, as well as allowing for the use of data captured during the context of a sale or service, provided an opt-out was available. Since almost any interaction with a B2B brand could be considered context, it seems likely that fears for the future of the business data sector will turn out to have been over-stated.
The only grain of sand spoiling this sandwich of satisfaction could prove to be the shelf-life of six months currently being set for consent. Both B2C and B2B brands would struggle to achieve this rate of renewal and even GDPR left the issue open for future clarification.
By the end of last year, the ad tech sector was just starting to realise that it will need to understand GDPR and find ways to become compliant. At the start of this year, it finds itself staring down the barrel of a new law aimed squarely in its direction. A new ePrvacy Regulation combined with GDPR will make it clear that tracking, profiling and data sharing online will all require consent, have a shelf life and come with specific rights.
Coping with deletion requests is likely to be a major technical headache for ad tech which few networks have even considered. Winning consent in the first place is going to be a challenge and could lead to heavy consolidation across the sector. Since nine out of ten vendors currently trade at a loss, any which can not guarantee their clients that the data being used is compliant will go to the wall.
The bots arrive
Chances are your customer services function already has artificial intelligence at work, acting as a chatbot to answer questions. But this is just scratching the surface and 2017 is likely to see AI land heavily in the data and analytics function. Mainstream companies have already begun to deploy bots to identify and classify data within large data sets, saving teams significant amounts of time in finding what they need for analyses and reports.
The sheer scale and complexity of streaming data, let alone what is about to emerge from IoT devices, demands machine learning to liberate its human masters for value-adding tasks. Data scientists have been working on this challenge across sectors - 2017 will see more productised solutions being introduced for those organisations who lack PhD-level analysts.
Cognitive builds its killer app
For some years, there was seemingly only one cognitive game in town in the form of Jeopardy-winning IBM Watson. Whle delivering clear benefits in supporting the diagnostic process, interpreting symptoms and offering options for treatments or drugs, this technology had yet to find an outlet in other sectors. Pressure from medical insurance companies for cost-cutting clearly played a part in creating demand from this sector that is currently absent elsewhere.
With the arrival of Amazon Alexa, however, cognitive may have found its killer app. For those already hooked on voice recognition systems like Assistant, Siri or Cortana, heavy users of content services and online shopping, the new device looks custom-made. Add in some more connected devices to build an eco-system for it to control and those heady days of labour-saving devices from the 1950s and 60s look to have been revisited for Millennials.