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World Economic Forum: Strategic Opportunities in ‘Customer Data’

The World Economic Forum will be launching a major initiative around leveraging telco customer data at Davos in February 2011. Telco 2.0, along with MIT Media Lab, Harvard Law School and Bain & Co has been part of a core advisory team to prepare for this. In the run up to major sessions on this topic at our Executive Brainstorm events in AMERICAS, EMEA and APAC, and Best Practice Live! virtual events we describe the aims and status of the initiative, and share some of the outputs from a recent workshop in New York:

Readers of this blog are no doubt aware that the World Economic Forum (WEF) is a powerful not-for-profit body that has significant influence in helping industry and government think about global commercial and social development opportunities in new ways.

Each year, within the major industry sectors it covers, it identifies a small set of big issues that it feels are important and which it can uniquely address: strategic topics that require collaboration from a wider variety of stakeholders, cross-border, cross-industry, cross-governmental stakeholders that can’t be assembled or managed by existing industry bodies.

It researches these topics, defines a set of hypotheses, and then each February at its Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland it launches major ‘projects’ to push forward the opportunities it has defined. The Annual Meeting is attended by the CEOs of the world’s biggest corporations, politicians, heads of state and other luminaries. It’s very much the place to be for the great and the good, and ideas and opportunities raised there get very high global visibility.

So, the Telecoms and Technology group at WEF, having started projects for Mobile Finance and Mobile Health a few years ago, decided this year to focus on ‘Personal Information and Digital Identities’ - what we at Telco 2.0 call ‘Customer Data’. After our Privacy 2.0 summit in Boston in February, which WEF attended, we were asked to join a small group of expert advisors to the project alongside MIT Media Lab, Harvard Law School and Bain & Co.

The ‘Re-Thinking Personal Information’ project is now in full flow and a white paper will be launched in Davos in Febuary 2011. It looks holistically at the issue of how individuals, government and commercial enterprises can leverage the enormous quantity of rich personal information that flows through telecoms networks, to benefit the user and society in general.

Given the speed at which technology and online user behaviour is developing and the slowness of regulators in keeping up, the project looks as much at legal/governance issues as commercial, technical and user acceptibilty issues.

A project workshop was run recently in New York with a group of senior participants from the telecoms, technology, internet, banking, media, consumer advocacy, government and healthcare sectors - the type of gathering that WEF can uniquely create. This document was used as a briefing, and provides a very good summary of what the project is about.

Telco 2.0 was delighted not only to participate, but also, on the day before, to facilitate a separate session for the WEF’s leading telco industry members to brainstorm the key macro issues/opportunities for the industry over the next 3-5 years (that the WEF could help support).

The outcome, which involved voting by the group, was very interesting. The top 7 issues were:

1.) To create a global ‘trust framework’ for customer data and digital identities.
2.) To re-define the fundamental telco business model and the methods for industry commercial innovation.
3.) To define how to partner better with adjacent industries
4.) To develop more appropriate regulation for cross-border, cross-industry collaboration.
5.) To create a more compelling business case for (fixed/mobile broadband) infrastructure investment.
6.) To clarify the opportunity for Telco Cloud infrastructure.

This is the sort of list that existing telco trade bodies can’t really conceive of, and which WEF is uniquely placed to support. But, the striking thing for the Telco 2.0 representative was how important customer data and business model innovation ranked in order of strategic priorities for the telecoms industry (as opportunities and challenges).

Telco 2.0’s latest analysis of the role of telcos in the Personal Information Economy is here.

Here’s also a video interview Telco 2.0 did recently with Telecom TV, about the WEF initiatives:

Here are some photos from the New York workshop (deliberately grainy to protect the privacy of the participants and their output!):

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