When Ctrl-Shift launched as a social enterprise in 2008, it’s founders can have had little idea what it would become. What started as advocacy for the concept of the personal information economy has become a consultancy helping some of the world’s leading brands to find the balance between their personal data-driven business objectives and the need to build trust with their customers who own that data.
As the 400-plus delegates at this year’s PIE 2017 could attest, things have changed a lot in the last nine years. Co-founder and CEO Liz Brandt told DataIQ: “Now is the time - the market is moving in this direction.” From Facebook running a mini design jam to develop prototypes of new privacy-led interfaces to discussions around open banking, the way data is transforming the economy, society and business, together with the risks that creates, has become a very real issue at C-suite level.
“It is easy to look at it in retrospect and say it all makes sense,” admitted Brandt. Whether through happy accident or deliberate intent, she now finds herself as one of the influential figures at the heart of this debate. “We did start with the hypothesis that more digital devices would create more data and that data would become more personal and that would drive a need for a different relationship between individuals and organisations.”
Analysing developments in the personal information economy was the original purpose of Ctrl-Shift and it has looked at over 500 different personal information management services since it launched. But that original business model didn’t work out, despite the validity of its insight. “Companies didn’t know they didn’t know about this, so researching it became too costly to support on its own,” she explained.
Two years ago, the company pivoted to become a consultancy that also conducted analysis. What allowed that to happen was the extensive network of contacts Ctrl-Shift had built up through researching the sector, from working with the World Economic Forum on its reports “Emergence of a new asset class” and “Unlocking the value of personal data” and consulting with Government on the MiData project through to global organisations across the US, Europe and Asia. “That research has turned out to be an unbelieveable asset,” she said.
That shift reflected just how far companies had come in their thinking. “We were working with a high street retailer and thought they would be the last people to empower their customers with their data, but they could see the future value,” recalled Brandt. “This brought into stark relief how to operationalise this vision inside a business. Now we are seeing more and more of that across retail, media, finance, social media, telcos.”
Brandt believes it is not just upcoming legislation like GDPR and open banking that is forcing this change, but also the erosion of long-standing business models, with retailers losing trade to ecommerce, banks seeing customers defect to new entrants, and even social media facing constant challenges by the latest big thing.
“Taken together with legislation, it is making a big difference and bringing the big players to the table. It raises personal information up to C-suite level because the CEO and CFO want to know what it means for the business,” she said. Set alongside that is the new world order of GAFA and BAT (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, Alibaba, Ten Cent) who fundamentally rely on personal information in order to trade.
“We work with businesses who are trying to push the boundaries, large corporations that want us to do a market review of technology so they know what to buy,” she said.
The other side of Ctrl-Shift is talking to new entrants to the personal information economy, which is not always as fun as it sounds. “A lot of people come to us and say, ‘look what I’ve got,’ and some are great, others not so much. A lot start off thinking they want to be a personal data store then, to prove their worth, start to morph their offer towards different value propositions, such as personal finance management. There are huge opportunities for those that can stay in the game and stick to their core value proposition. Only time will tell,” said Brandt.
This is one aspect of the personal information economy that was hard to forecast even just nine years ago. As multiple speakers at PE 2017 pointed out, being part of an eco-system is the new business model, whether as a PDS, intent casting solution, billing engine or data analytics. Brandt concluded: “It’s like deciding to build a car and then realising you need an engine, but what you have built is the brakes. No one company builds the whole car.”