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StJohn Deakins, founder and chief executive, CitizenMe

StJohn Deakins

Path to power

Since 1996, I’ve helped companies to successfully drive digital transformation in sectors from publishing to travel to telco but I’m now taking on the most impactful digital transformation project of my career.

 

In 1996, I helped the world’s oldest daily international newspaper, Lloyd’s List, go digital. Previously, subscribers waited days to receive time-sensitive shipping schedules via airmail. Shifting this data from a broadsheet to online enabled the digital paper to be profitable within 12 months; probably the first ever profitable daily digital newspaper. Back then, the circulation director said the Internet was a fad. Today, the newspaper is digital-only.

 

I then joined a New York agency to build out British Airways’ global Internet presence, enabling it to take digital bookings from zero to 50% of its global revenue within two years.

 

In 2000, my team built out the first mobile first digital strategy for T-Mobile UK, coining the terms “multiple digital channels” and “omnichannel” as part of our “C Cube” strategy (designing digital experiences with reference to community identification, content relevance, and preferred digital channels).

 

I then moved to Singapore and ran mobile data platform businesses that enabled over 100 million people to connect digitally via their mobile phones. I sold it at the end of 2010.

 

In 2013, I founded CitizenMe. Our mission is to “empower humanity with data for a sustainable digital future”. We enable everyone to participate with their own data in the digital ecosystem. Our platform drives transformational benefits for individuals, companies and society. In 2019, we perfected the model and are now scaling.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

Apart from being nominated for the DataIQ ethics award last year? Founding a commercial organisation that is innovating with data to create a positive impact for both individuals and society. The achievement that I aspire to is helping to nudge the Internet ecosystem to create a far more participatory digital economy and a flourishing digital society. The solution is simple, mass personal participation with personal data.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

I love the philosophy and big picture thinking of Marcus Aurelius (the last “good emperor”). David Bowie rode the cultural transformational sweet spot for 40 years. My mum set up a housing association, deftly balancing commercial and community impact. Orwell warned us. Musk accelerates markets. Tim Berners-Lee enabled the web.

 

Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

Our sustainable data platform attracting major international companies was a great change. Companies now “get” the need for direct data participation. More broadly, change is accelerating faster than anticipated. GDPR was seen as an end state but it’s clear it was just a beginning.

 

The EU is working on new legislation for ethical AI (and its use of personal data), which will be more purist than GDPR. Meanwhile, many governments are preparing regulation to leapfrog GDPR. For example, Japan will legislate this year for all citizens to have a “personal data bank” with the explicit aim of giving them a data alternative to Google and Amazon.

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

2020 will get yet more interesting with more and faster change. Regulation is establishing new norms and forcing the laggards to keep up. New regulation will keep coming in this year. Consumer attitudes to how companies are using their data are continuing to evolve, with survey after survey highlighting a growing distrust in data practices - and a thirst for new alternatives. We’re working with some forward-thinking companies who understand that those who act on this and drive direct data engagements with customers will enjoy a huge competitive advantage.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

We’re now reaching the tipping point where the economy shifts from being mainly industrial to a society where digital is the norm and analogue is the exception. A good analogy is the electrification of cars. Five years ago, having an electric car was noteworthy. In just five years from now, however, most new car models will be electric and petrol car owners will be considered dinosaurs. This change is mirrored in every area of our global economy and society.

The biggest opportunity is to empower people with their own data. This enables all organisations to optimise for the change, rather than be disrupted by it.

 

What is the biggest tech challenge your clients face in ensuring data is at the heart of their digital transformation strategy?

Simply, it’s data. Simultaneously solving for all 5 five “Vs” of big data (volume, variety, veracity, velocity and value) is hard. And especially so in an environment where the regulators are adding friction to what were common practices, for example purchasing third-party data, data-fusion and cookie tracking.

 

Meanwhile, the providers of data (people) are increasingly distrustful of the ways that it is being used. In this context, digital transformation becomes increasingly hard. By organising data around the individual and enabling them to participate in direct data conversations with the organisation, the transformation becomes far more straightforward. Clean, fresh, consented data with huge variety and in real-time will become the starting point for all truly digital organisations.

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