The most pressing issues facing companies today include the impending arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the unprecedented rise in cybercrime and the increasing opportunities of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) that promise to get companies closer to their customers and deliver a superior personalised service.
With scaremongering about GDPR in full swing, primarily around the potentially huge fines that could be levied for breaches, and the media becoming increasingly aware of the arrival of AI and its implications, it’s not surprising that CEO’s are worried.
Indeed, following a serious cyber attack in June 2015 when more than 650,000 customer email addresses were stolen, some would find it understandable why UK pub chain JD Weatherspoons decided to delete its entire marketing email database.
Apparently coming to the conclusion that the collection, storage and management of this data – and preparing for life under GDPR – was not worth the benefits it brought, did the company decide that handling customer data was just too dangerous and not worth the hassle?
However, the steepest of fines available to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – up to €20 million or 4% of global turnover – will be most likely served as a last resort. After all, the ICO is a public body that is not in the business of putting other people out of business.
With the emergence of exciting, new data driven technologies and platforms that promise to revolutionise the way businesses connect with consumers, it could be that Weatherspoons, and companies that follow suit, are at risk of scoring an own goal.
Platforms eat data for breakfast
Customer communication platforms are changing, and these will be powered by huge flows of information. Data will, in fact, become the very engine that drives the next tech revolution.
The expectations of the ‘always-on-consumer’, continually shifting and growing to search, shop, buy and return in any channel at any time, has already meant that businesses are gearing up for the new economics of omnichannel commerce. Simply put, it’s not just about email anymore. If you rely purely on email marketing, increasingly seen as an irritant by the consumer, then you’re going to be left behind.
Dynamic companies are starting to understand and capitalise upon the myriad touch points of their customers’ journey to drive more relevant engagement and boost conversions, through intelligent use of multiple platforms. To do this effectively, they need to collect and manage even greater amounts of customer data so they can harness it successfully to draw meaningful insights that help them get closer to their customer.
Knowing me – knowing you
Businesses are already starting to meet customers where they work and live, by communicating via data-driven dialogues such as chat bots. They are reaching customers in the micro-moment when they are actually looking for product or service information or are making a purchasing decision. This is good for the customer and good for business.
The conversation with consumers is fast moving to other platforms, such as AI-based home assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and these platforms will get smarter and more capable over time to ensure they really get under your skin and ‘know you’. But what is the price of this ‘knowing you well’ future? What will it all mean with regards to who has your personal data? What will it mean for your cyber safety? And how will it impact the efficacy of GDPR?
These smart, fast learning new platforms will be reliant on huge, enriched data flows to operate as intended. Will the public be willing to consent to such use of their personal data? I think so, as long as these platforms deliver an exciting, personalised experience in return.
Of course, grey areas exist. It’s unlikely we’ll see any significant test cases from the ICO until the end of 2018, so currently we can only speculate on how GDPR will be enforced. Trust in AI will be critical for mass adoption, so will the general public be happy to accept software – with no input from a human – determining key points in their life, such as getting a mortgage, life insurance, a personal loan or even a job?
It just takes a small amount of enriched data about your location, behaviour, outlook and lifestyle choices – gathered by a plethora of different sources such as Alexa, your smart TV, fridge or apps on your smartphone – for an intelligent data surveillance source to make a decision about you that you just might not like. There are certainly a lot of legal areas to be considered.
Hackers, cybercriminals and the authorities will be very interested in obtaining the sheer volume of data that smart devices are capable of gathering. There are numerous examples of how ‘smart’ technology has been compromised – You Tube has videos of security researchers hacking into modern cars and digital locks, hackers have compromised CCTV and smart air conditioning systems, and Germany ordered parents to destroy the ‘My Friend Cayla’ smart doll as it was classified as an illegal espionage device.
The publicity around these breaches, and GDPR’s privacy by default requirements, should force companies to consider data protection during the initial conception phase of new products and services, rather than as an afterthought.
Trust in the era of AI
The good news is that enhanced data security rules will help to facilitate faster adoption of next generation AI products and services, by enabling consumers to control the use of their own personal data in a clear and transparent way. And if businesses become more rigorous about data security processes in general, they will foster greater levels of trust amongst current and potential customers – being seen as a secure, trustworthy company will pay great dividends in future.
The rewards for greater utilisation of personal data are significant for manufacturers, developers and consumers, if connected devices combined with emerging AI capabilities reach their full potential. So don’t be frightened of GDPR or your customer information – this is an opportunity to get your data in order, get compliant and become consistently transparent with your customers.