Early one morning, in the not too distant future, one of your customers – let’s call her Sarah – will wake up and do what she has been doing for some time, reach for her smart device (phone, tablet or whatever). Sarah will have connected all of the data gathered about her from social networks, financial institutions, loyalty programmes, and utility providers and it will be fed to her digital personal assistant. To this will be added bits of information about her location, diet and exercise and other personal details recorded on a wide range of applications and devices. All of that information will be gathered together in one spot that she controls.
Sarah will look at her smart device and it will ask her a simple question: “What do you want to do today?” Unlike today’s smartphones, which simply display data such as calendar events, emails, Tweets and Facebook updates, the devices of tomorrow will understand all of that data means and then help you turn it into action. All the data a person creates will be centralised, not in the way it is now – primarily focused around the requirements of businesses or governments – but in a way that is useful for that particular individual. Sarah will not have to wade through masses of data. Instead she will be presented with very simple options like ‘relationships’, ‘work’, ‘finance’ and ‘fitness’.
In the ‘relationships’ setting she names a few friends she would like to get back in touch with. In the ‘fitness’ setting she indicates she would like to engage in some outdoor activities. The digital personal assistant interface on her phone knows that she used to play tennis and asks if she’d like to play again this weekend. It knows that the forecast is for sunny weather and that one of the friends she is keen to catch up with would make a good tennis partner. Sarah thinks that is a great idea and agrees – and in the background the personal assistant books the court, invites her friend and puts the match in each of their calendars.
Sometime earlier Sarah had indicated that Nike was a company that she’d like to hear from. So she now gets a message from Nike offering a free virtual tennis lesson from Roger Federer through her new Xbox. She accepts the offer and later that week begins the lessons. After completing one of the lessons she gets another message saying that, based on the way she has been hitting the ball, Nike recommends a new racquet for her. She examines the virtual racquet on-screen and, after customising the colours to suit her personal preference, buys it and organises it top be delivered to the court booked for the weekend.
Sarah is living in a world where she is no longer bombarded by marketing messages but instead hears from companies she respects. And those companies spend their time and effort focusing on building a relationship with her. The days of shotgun marketing are gone. She lives in a world where the data she is creating converges and is useful to her. She is not being spied upon.
This scenario may sound like some time in the distant future. In fact it is starting to happen right now thanks to rapidly developing technology called personal clouds. Gartner has listed personal clouds as one of the top 10 strategic technologies for 2014. These clouds are being designed and built to give consumers more power, control and utility over their own information.
After years of investing in big data techniques that had begun to resemble NSA-style spying ploys, many of the businesses I deal with are now asking us to help shape their strategy for personal clouds. This is not about technology for the sake of it. They have realised that creating a digital service offering that uses data to provide value to customers is tomorrow’s competitive battlefield.
Each of us is creating data at an incredible rate and that is only going to accelerate. The smart businesses are now realise that trying to own that data is expensive and very difficult – but helping customers get value from it is the new competitive advantage.
So consumers’ desire and ability to aggregate and utilise their own data will come into focus in the year ahead. Businesses are experiencing the market backlash from the ‘downsides’ to consumers of the heavy investment in online marketing – which makes them feel like they are being watched at every turn. And the media coverage of NSA contractor Edward Snowden throughout 2013 has further highlighted the issue about the nature of the data is being collected and used.
Developing a customer focused strategy and evolving an entire digital customer experience journey is becoming essential for the profitability and even survival of many businesses. But they need to be aware of how public opinion is shifting in respect of online privacy and personal data utilisation. This is why the developments in personal cloud technology and movements such as vendor relationship management (VRM), championed by the legendary internet commentator Doc Searls, are so interesting.
At the heart of the personal cloud movement is the concept that all of the data the you and I create as we go about our daily lives is actually our property. Currently the consumer has no ownership and usually no visibility over this information. The personal cloud is a place where people can aggregate, curate and utilise that data. It is a place on the internet they can truly call their own. Unlike cloud storage facilities such as Dropbox, the personal cloud is more like a virtual computer created to manage an individual’s online life. I recently spoke to Joe Pine, the author of The Experience Economy and TED presenter. We discussed the personal cloud movement and he commented that, “People no longer want ads targeted at them. Companies need to use the information they gain from individual consumers to benefit those same consumers.”
Sitting at the forefront of the personal cloud movement is Dr Phil Windley, based out of Utah. He has developed a personal cloud operating system, Cloud OS, that allows these concepts to come into existence. He has developed technology from the ground up to give consumers the ability to store and use their own data. It is the internet of things with yourself at the centre.
Personal clouds give the consumer autonomy and power in the ‘data exchange’ relationship. And that is of vital importance for business leaders. Adopting this technology, understanding the philosophy behind it, and becoming comfortable with using the technology to develop a relationship with customers, changes the current paradigm. The customer’s data is no longer the source of value to businesses who adopt this paradigm. What matters instead is their willingness to allow a relationship to develop.
This is a very different world from the data-driven marketing one currently dominated by Google and Facebook. It redirects the investment that many brands have made into data driven ‘surveillance’ style marketing (much of which had done more long-term harm than good) towards customer relationships. In this world commercial dominance is not gained through control and manipulation. Instead the most valuable asset is the trust and respect of your market. In this environment good-will can be quantified and valued. It puts pressure on companies to spend less on interruption marketing and focus instead on delivering digital services that provide real value.
Technology naturally plays an important part in this market transformation, but while personal clouds seem like a likely catalyst for change putting technology first is usually a mistake. It is more important to develop a strategic approach that will allow your business to innovate and take advantage of these technologies as they mature. To quote Joe Pine again, “Consumers are becoming orchestrators of their own experience, determining what to do when, and personal clouds are making that happen.”
A well designed and managed customer experience builds trust. Getting this right will be a top strategic priority for many companies in the coming months.
Yet again technology is generating a market shift and it is giving more power to the individual. Like every technology has evolved to directly benefit consumers when the time is right it will be adopted quickly. The rapid rise of social media saw some organisations taken by surprise and other benefit. The same will happen in the case of personal clouds.
Which camp will your company fall into?