TRA Journal

Through the looking glass: the future of data

Jonny Almario

Data is becoming an economy of its own with media commentary likening it to the new oil, gold and even bacon – a valuable commodity with a myriad of uses and applications. 

But as we transition to Industry 4.0 the way we manage and curate data will take on new importance, particularly with automation and AI becoming commonplace in our daily lives and organisations mining customer data to provide optimised experiences.

The new data economy

One possible version of the future sees data become a form of currency for businesses. American artist Jennifer Lyn Morone recently turned herself into a corporation and put a curated set of her personal records up for sale via auction. Although an extreme example, it hints towards a future economy whereby individuals may be able to sell subsets of their personal data to gain access to better services and discounts from the organisations that serve them, or for monetary compensation. 

In light of these emerging applications and economies, businesses must reframe how they look at data, realising that it can and will be used in the future as a vehicle of power to target and influence at scale – the Cambridge Analytica scandal should be enough of a warning. 

Reclaiming control of personal data

With more and more of our personal lives and details stored online, largely out of our control, the shift towards decentralisation is gaining momentum. Decentralisation is a reaction towards single point failures and our reliance on entities such as banks or big tech companies to look after our personal data. 

Decentralisation puts the power back into the hands of people, championing p2p and removing our reliance on intermediaries. Bitcoin is an example – as a censorship-resistant, borderless, p2p cryptocurrency, Bitcoin uses a distributed public ledger which keeps it transparent and largely immutable. Rather than relying on a middleman to keep the network running, the network is distributed across the globe and incentivises people to maintain its integrity and keep it in check.

Blockchain technology offers sovereignty over personal data, putting people back in control and allowing them to dictate what they share and when. Concepts such as Self-Sovereign Identification (SSI) are an example of this whereby individuals have power over their identification credentials (such as biometric data or digitised paperwork) and interact with physical checkpoints or digital infrastructure to validate their identity. 

In 2018 the World Economic Forum and Accenture published a report exploring the Known Traveller Identity concept. Travellers would retain full control of their biometric data, interacting with passport and visa check points via a permissioned blockchain, making the transition in and out of airports secure and seamless. Locally during the Kiwibank Fintech 2.0 accelerator, Ego Identity looked at an SSI solution for anti money laundering compliance, enabling secure digital identities that individuals can easily control and organisations can easily verify. 

Blockchain may not be the grand answer for the future of data, particularly in its current state where adoption and scalability are still questionable. However, the technology is in its early days, with commentary likening the current state of blockchain to that of the internet in the early 1990s. 


Data that streamlines our customer’s lives

As we get more advanced in how we use data ecosystems to augment our everyday lives, streamlined processes and interactions will take precedence for organisations. The Internet of Things (IoT) and services such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and open banking which use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are examples of how technology can be used to improve the lives of our customers. 

IoT uses interconnectivity between devices and infrastructure to provide seamless interactions and processes, although some applications of the technology seem to tread the line of pure novelty (innovation for innovation’s sake). Future advancements will see IoT further augmented by AI, for example with digital life coaches or personal trainers that use health data from our wearables to give us personalised programmes and advice that adapts to the ebbs and flow in our lives. 

Likewise, open banking can empower us by bridging our finances into one platform, giving us more control and ease of use. This also offers potential for automation to take control of parts of banking, giving us more time to enjoy life and lessening the cognitive load that our finances may be taking from us. 

Bridging the gap through trust

These conversations raise an interesting question – if people were more open with their personal data, could they receive more personalised and enhanced experiences? 

While this is where we’re ultimately heading, Mary Meeker’s 2018 internet trends report highlighted that there is still work to do before people are comfortable trading their privacy for benefits and optimised experiences. So what can Kiwi businesses do to ensure their customers feel safe and secure in this new data economy?

Trust becomes imperative. If organisations plan to use customer data and rely on its analysis to design innovative solutions and solve business problems, we need to ask ourselves: how might we gain our customer’s trust and reassure them that their data is being used to help them? 

Transparency can serve as a bridge to build trust in this space. Organisations need to be open about how data is collected, retained and used, and show a willingness to engage in dialogue with their customers and clients on these points. 

Companies like Monzo have proven that being open and honest about data breaches and dealing with them in a proactive manner is the only way to do business going forward, in contrast to the old-school approach of dousing fires in secret – businesses need to understand and commit to their duty of care to their customers’ data.

In this way organisations can realise the potential of data applications and developing technology to assist and augment their customers lives for the better.