Driving innovation with an open data economy

Given the huge possibilities represented by the big data movement, Matt Stroud, head of the personal data and trust programme, Digital Catapult, explains how we can realise the potential of personal data transparency

Driving innovation with an open data economy

We’re on the cusp of a seismic shift in the connectivity revolution. In the last two decades, globally, we have laid the foundation for this, building the infrastructure to enable both wireless and high-performance connectivity in the workplace as well as in our personal lives. The results of this have been astounding, creating a highly-digitised generation for whom digital is the de facto option and digital services seamlessly integrate into everyday life. In fact, there are now more mobile phones than toothbrushes in the world. This digital boom, alongside the growth of internet of things (IoT), has created a new crucial resource for economic growth: data.   

We are now entering the second wave of the digital revolution as we start to strategically utilise the data we have created. To put this into perspective, 90% of all shared data has been created in the last three years. We live in a world where data points are everywhere, where data is liquid, machine-readable, widely acceptable, shared and distributed and its growth is on the upwards trajectory. The information collected from your vehicle, for example, equates to just 4MB a month now; in five years’ time it will be an incredible 5GB. 

There is huge potential for this flood of diverse data to drive waves of innovation. For example, if we combine data from health and exercise, we can add a new level of accuracy to medical records, therefore streamlining healthcare. McKinsey recently stated that the use of big data could account for $300bn to $450bn in reduced health care spending or 12% – 17% of the $2.6tn baseline in US health-care costs. This combination of big data and personal data is innovation rocket fuel and the same model of shared data can be transferred to other sectors – from education to media. In short, the opportunity is endless.

However, we have a looming problem – a glass ceiling on realising the innovation potential that personal data can bring. Thanks in part to the high-profile hacks we have witnessed over the last few years, citizens and contributors are increasingly distrusting of the way their personal data is being reused and how secure it is. To make this worse, as a nation, we lack guidelines on good practice when it comes to the security and reuse of consumer data, making it difficult for organisations to actually prove their credibility to their consumers.

If we are to move past this, we must first address the issue of cyber-hacking; allowing consumers and contributors to feel confident that their information will not fall into the wrong hands. With an increasing number of connected devices available, concerns around data sharing have grown exponentially. In order to solve this, each individual involved in the digital space must take responsibility and become an expert. And this isn’t limited to those in digital sectors; it is a problem for everyone utilising digital in their businesses, no matter the sector. 

In order to build trust with their customers, organisations must invest in developing products and services that have transparency, consent, minimisation, simplicity and data integrity at their core. In future these will not be add-on features but differentiators affecting customer choice; organisations that fail to adopt this now risk being left behind. To achieve data trust, organisations need a completely new set of innovative architecture tools and business models. While this is not something we can do overnight, the UK must start to take a global leadership position on this, both in the public and private sector, or risk being left behind as other countries scale up to meet consumer demands.

The way in which we can achieve this is by having voluntary codes and trust frameworks around the use and re-use of personal data. By putting these standards in place, organisations can help protect data, as well as setting standard benchmarks for both the public and private sector.

Personal data and trust is an area that the Digital Catapult is heavily involved in already. Much of the progress towards the trusted re-use of personal data will be iterative and taken in small steps using safe secure environments and citizen or consumer explicit consent. These projects can already be seen in services such as CitizenMe, which shows what data consumers are sharing and lets them control what is shared and what is private. Digi.Me also saves consumers social networks to their computer so they can have their content safe and in one place. At the Digital Catapult, we’ll be supporting a range of similar projects and services, ensuring the UK claims its position as a world class leader in the trusted reuse of personal data.

Over the course of the next five years, initial use cases of sharing organisational and personal data will start to join up and create a sea change which will impact the whole nation. A whole new set of tools, architectures, business models and best practices will develop and be implemented throughout every sector in the UK. 

By ensuring that, as a nation, we implement these changes now, the benefits – economic and social will be immense. The UK is already considered a world leader in digital economy, in order to maintain this position; we have no choice but to drive data collaboration. Only by doing this can we break the glass ceiling and realise the power of data as a force for good. 


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