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Personal Data 2.0: the opportunity is moving, but are telcos?

This article summarises the encouraging signs that Telco Industry leadership is “Rethinking Personal Data”, although we conclude that more urgency is needed for collective action.

It provides useful context for the sessions we will be running on this topic at our forthcoming New Digital Economics events. (For more background please see our research stream here and previous blogs on the World Economic Forum project here and here.)

“Personal data” is cropping up with increasing regularity in a number of industry senior executive gatherings such as the GSMA’s leadership summit and the World Economic Forum.

Any CEO gatherings run the risk of being high on statements of broad intent and low on specifics let alone firm commitments. However, the very fact that personal data is on the agenda at all says something. The function of these meetings is to identify critical agenda-setting issues and then progress understanding across many stakeholders.

So, what can we conclude other than that there is broad consensus that personal data, digital identity and trust networks are key to the future of the information economy and telco industry?

For more insight, we can turn to some of the recent publications. The GSMA’s coverage on the topic is split across a number of documents across multiple initiatives including OneAPI, Mobile Signatures (curiously, under Mobile Money), Mobile Advertising (under Mobile Media and Entertainment), Mobile Privacy Principles (under public policy) and deep in the WAC specifications. None of these discuss the economic opportunity around customer data in a comprehensive, systematic way.

wef data report image  mar 2011.png

The World Economic Forum has given the subject prominence in its recent report on Personal Data: The Emergence of a New Asset Class, which also sheds some light into leadership thinking.

The report, produced in collaboration with Telco 2.0 and Bain, highlights the need for organisations to adopt end-user centricity as a cornerstone principle in developing the trust networks underpinning the Personal Data Ecosystems of tomorrow’s information economy. The report also call for collective action in 5 areas:

  • Innovate around user-centricity and trust
  • Define global principles for using and sharing personal data
  • Strengthen the dialog between regulators and the private sector
  • Focus on interoperability and open standards
  • Continually share knowledge
Telco 2.0 hopes that this translates into increased senior-level appreciation that customers’ data should be seen an asset class in its own right and one where telco’s have significant potential mining opportunities. We also look forward to an increase in telco-led pilots and trials in and around personal data ecosystems. A more public commitment to the key principles the industry will adopt in pursuing this opportunity is needed. We are however, more sceptical regarding the industry’s answer to the call for more open collaboration and sharing across the industry. Although it is understandable that operators should look to seek competitive advantage (and hence be quite protective about any insight or advantage they may be able to secure through piloting), this is one area where true competition is more likely to come from the Internet players and/or a more general “lock-down” from concerned public authorities “snuffing-out” innovation before it takes root.

The industry is suddenly finding that with the explosion of smarter connected personal devices, it may enjoy a potentially unique advantage in taking a commanding role in the emerging personal data ecosystem(s). This advantage will not last. Operators need to get their heads around the opportunity fast and move to defining, piloting and securing a role. “Wait and see” will turn into “wait and watch others win, while whining about unfair regulation”.

Join us in New York or London for detailed discussions on these issues.

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