Shikko Nijland
Shikko Nijland | INNOPAY
Shikko Nijland

Customer data: old problems demand new solutions

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Exponential growth in the amount of digital transactions and customer data is causing organisations to fundamentally review how they will operate in future. As GDPR comes into force, companies need to accept that problems created by their use of customer data now require innovative responses, new ways of more responsible thinking, and an openness to finding collaborative solutions.

We risk becoming the 'polluters' of the data sharing ecosystem
"It's like environmental pollution," suggests Shikko Nijland, CEO and managing partner at INNOPAY. "At first everyone thought factories were the way forwards and nobody really cared about the effect on the environment. When we realised there was a problem, we responded by trying to improve the factories, and that's what GDPR is doing – trying to improve the way companies solve legacy problems associated with their use of consumer data.

"GDPR is a good first step, but we also need to think ahead so we can avoid creating new problems in the future. We need to develop cross-sector agreements which will enable all parties in the value chain to benefit from how we exchange and manage data. And this means we need to look for solutions beyond the borders of our own companies."

GDPR is driving a new level of discussion
Customers are increasingly aware that their personal data has significant value. Shikko: "If you look at digital transactions today, it's no longer just about the exchange of money for goods. Consumers now understand that the data they provide also has a value for companies. And that's the reason why GDPR is in place – because data is valuable and you have to take care of it and allow customers to manage it. And this creates liability and exposure for companies."

"One of the largest changes we've noticed is that companies now understand that this data is not their own. In the past, clients would tell us that they owned the data because their customers had given it to them. Now companies are being forced to rethink and take responsibility for the data. And to be honest, I'd be surprised if more than 10% of companies are really prepared for GDPR. Most of them understand the challenges, but solving problems which have built up over several years is extremely challenging. Many of them will be able to tick some of the GDPR boxes, but very few of them will be fully compliant."

Don’t centralise data, but centralise access to data
Companies need to change their mind-set. "The winners of tomorrow," proposes Shikko, "will be those who think from the position of their customers. You need to make sure that every product and every interaction is designed to allow the customer to control his or her data. Companies have a responsibility to provide dashboards which enable their customers to control who uses their data and for what purposes."

And herein lies the potential flaw in GDPR. As companies rush to create their own local solutions, so the environment risks becoming even more fragmented. Customers will be asked to maintain a separate data dashboard for each individual vendor, leading to time-consuming over-complication and inevitable customer lethargy.

Shikko says, "If companies really want to engage their customers, agreements are needed to allow data to be reused across multiple companies, instead of asking customers to input the same data over and over again. Of course much of this data is already fragmented – we cannot go back in time and change this. But we can begin to manage access to this data more centrally. For example, we can use the 'digital key boxes' concept, where customers can assign access to their existing data to new companies, and also revoke that access on demand. By simplifying and centralising access to data, we can engage customers more effectively, and we can encourage them to use their data in ways which open up new business value for both themselves and for companies. For the first time, value will be added for all players in the data chain." This may sound simple, but to realise a concept like the digital keybox, it will require collaboration on multiple levels including lawmakers, regulators, companies and consumers. We'll pick up this 'digital key boxes' concept in the next issue of Innsider.

Collaborative schemes will support more effective data exchange
INNOPAY has proven experience in establishing collaborative data sharing schemes, such as iSHARE for the logistics sector. Shikko adds: "We believe that a crucial part of the establishment of collaborative schemes is the development of communities which will ensure sufficient adoption in the early stages. Most people underestimate the level of investment required in marketing communications during the setup phase. But we've seen how crucial it is to engage with multiple industry players from the start – what we call the 'Coalition of the Willing'. We also believe it is important that the standards which underpin the scheme are formulated by the sector itself. We are the facilitators of the project, but we are agnostic of the schemes themselves. This has to come from the sector or it will be impossible to engage a critical mass of organisations as the scheme is rolled out."

Act now to avoid further pollution
Shikko concludes, "We cannot continue as we have done in the past. We already see significant global problems around privacy and who benefits from consumers' data. These problems will only exacerbate as the amount of data increases exponentially. I'm very concerned that if we don't tackle the systemic problems today, we will not have the capacity to do so in the future. We've seen what's happening to our world with pollution. This is the scale of problem we could face if we don't creatively address the challenges of data sharing. We need to think in new ways, to think how to create business value for ourselves and others by working together, and to think responsibly about how the future might look if we fail to act now."

To discuss how new types of collaborative solutions can solve data sharing challenges and create new business value for your organisation, feel free to contact Shikko at

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