Data ownership has become a highly-charged issue in the post-GDPR landscape. Business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses have had to work harder to demonstrate a data-value exchange with their customers, but have usually been able to find the right compromise. This has not always been as straightforward in the business-to-business (B2B) space and this is actively holding back certain sectors.
Agriculture is a case in point. It generates more data than any other industry, however 62% of farmers do not collect and share data. Yet data sharing is vital for supporting greater agility, resilience and innovation in supply chains.
The agriculture sector isn’t the only industry where a lack of data sharing impedes innovation, efficiencies and productivity. And there’s an understandable commercial rationale for not wanting to share data - it is rightly viewed as an asset, after all.
However, lockdown brought to light the limitations that insufficient data sharing poses. Disrupted supply chains left shelves bare, good produce went to waste, even the availability of bikes struggled to keep pace with a boom in demand.
It’s therefore important that different sectors share their experiences and key learnings to underline the opportunities data sharing presents in order to future-proof against disruption. B2C and B2B firms alike need to work harder to generate a spirit of collaboration from (often) unconvinced stakeholders. This is possible - even though scepticism is rife within the agriculture sector, we are beginning to turn the tide.
Agriculture stands as a useful touchstone for all sorts of industries that work across a broad eco-system of stakeholders. The complexities of a single farm means a grower’s needs can vary from field-to-field or crop-to-crop and involves a huge number of players up- and downstream of the farmer.
In agriculture, data transactions and sharing are increasingly influenced by sustainability, provenance and traceability in line with trends elsewhere. This means that each step of the B2B agri-chain needs to provide sufficient information so that those B2C companies can be sure the product meets the specifications set and thus the expectations of the end customer. The same is true whether you’re selling a loaf of bread, a mobile phone, or a motor car.
A stumbling block in presenting this level of detail is all too often an unwillingness to share data on the part of one or more player(s) in the value chain. This problem is especially acute in the agricultural sector, but we know from our colleagues who’ve joined from different fields like manufacturing and oil exploration that a lack of collaboration is a widespread challenge across sectors.
Nothing works without trust. We know in the B2C space that consumers are happy to share their data when the value exchange is clear, the terms are presented transparently and the data is handled sensitively. But as Facebook learned in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, trust is easily lost and this impacts on people’s willingness to continue sharing their data.
The principle of trust is no different in B2B. Imagine if your business data - all that experience, know-how and commercially-sensitive information built over years - is laid bare. For many, this would be akin to Coca-Cola having its secret ingredients published for the world to see.
In reality, the sharing of data is rarely this risky, so long as it’s anonymised. But it does mean that businesses requesting the data need to demonstrate it will be handled with great sensitivity and care. And, crucially, they must be transparent about why they need that data and who has access to it. These basic - but sometimes misapplied - principles help engender confidence that your data will be used appropriately and for the purposes consented to.
Sharing data can feel like handing over your banking PIN - this understandably makes some businesses feel exposed or at risk of losing ownership. Partners that need access to others’ data must demonstrate that the exchange doesn’t have to mean relinquishing control, but in fact empowers them to make better business decisions.
Demonstrating the value transparently is a sure-fire way to reassure a data provider that they’re a mutual partner. When the value exchange is vague, as we’ve seen is sometimes the case in agriculture, it only seeds suspicion and entrenches any reluctance to share. This puts us back to square one.
Consequently, the value must be clear from the outset to demonstrate exactly what the data owner will be getting in return for sharing their data: in the case of agriculture, this could be higher crop yields, greater operational efficiencies, etc.
Tangible benefits go a long way towards helping the data owner feel comfortable enough to share. As the relationship develops and bears fruit, it will become easier to secure buy-in. To paraphrase an iconic quote: ask not what the data provider can do for you, but what you can do for them.
Peter Leppan is regional director for EMEA at Proagrica