One of the questions that keeps popping up when people discuss â€œgiving the customerâ€™s information back to the customerâ€ is:
Is the customer ready for this?
This is not a trivial point. The social and cultural aspects of such a move need to be thought out and prepared for, one of the reasons why this hasnâ€™t happened as yet. So letâ€™s take a look at what has been happening, but perhaps with a slightly sideways perspective.
One. We have started the process of giving the customer control of transaction execution. Any purchase/fulfilment on the web, even checking in for a flight. We have started the process of providing the customer transparency of the transactionâ€™s status. Fedex. UPS. Amazon. eBay. Everyoneâ€™s got it. We have started the process of providing the customer transparency of information held about the customer, in terms of Freedom of Information or Data Protection or whatever. Now all we are talking about is transferring the responsibility of looking after the customerâ€™s own relatively static information to the customer. How different is this from my being in control of my preferences for Amazon or eBay or the Wall Street Journal online. Establish who I am. Indicate what I am interested in, and not interested in. Go through some process of validating my financial status formally; an example would be getting â€œverifiedâ€ status on PayPal. And bingo, there I am.
From a consumerisation perspective we have already taken step one of â€œgiving the customerâ€™s information back to the customerâ€. What consumer product/service providers have not yet done is step two, allowing the customer to share information about vendor A-related activity with vendor B. And this will happen. Despite the wholly predictable pushback from the product/service vendors, who lose a layer of lock-in as a result.
From an institutional perspective there is much to do, given where we are now. The vendor-lock-in argument is even more compelling here, with institutions largely unable to accept or sometimes even comprehend the implications of such a move, that of allowing the customer to share â€œyourâ€ activity information with a competitor. But it will happen. Only a matter of time.
Before we even go into the nature of the technology underpinning all this, in terms of identity formats and microformats, public and private keys, the nature of the encryption, the federated versus centralised models, how trust is conferred and authenticated, what kind of 1000lb gorillas are needed, the role of biometrics, the need for multifactor authentication processes, transaction guarantees and the process involved in guaranteeing, privacy protection, appropriateness of solutions for anti-money-laundering and identity theft protection and the economics of large scale provision of related infrastructure, we need to get the first question answered. Is the customer ready for this?
I can only speak for myself. Would I like to share my eBay activity with Christies or Bonhams or Sothebys? Would I like to share my British Airways activity with Lufthansa and United and Virgin? My hotel and car activity? My books and music activity? Yes yes yes.
I get to control my core â€œstaticâ€ information. Who else knows this as well as I do? I get it verified by an independent arbiter, much like I need a birth certificate to get a passport. I choose whom I share what with.
I choose. I look after. I am the beneficiary.
Thatâ€™s the key.
Then I can get all the downstream benefits of collaborative filtering and recommendations. Then my marketplaces get all the benefits of democratised reputation and rating and profiling and prediction.
A lot has to change. And will change. Provided the plan is: I choose. I look after. I am the beneficiary.