Using Your Data for You

08/03/2013 12:47 | Updated 07 May 2013

As we all know, a lot of today's businesses have extensive data on us as consumers. Be it our favourite social network, the local supermarket or the bank. But not a lot of that insight is ever used to its full potential, either for the business, or the consumer.

For decades, organisations have been able to ask questions of their data in order to make informed business decisions: this is what we know as business intelligence. Now if we extrapolate that idea and place it in the consumer market, the range of possibilities are truly endless.

Every week, millions of us buy our food from supermarkets. But what if we were able to see what proportion of that whole basket was fats, sugar, salt, alcohol or carbohydrate? What if we, as consumers, could make everyday lifestyle choices based on the phenomenal amounts of data that we, as a civilisation, have on everything we eat, drink or do?

In the future, we will. One exciting example of a major company making a foray into this space is Facebook with its Graph Search.1 Graph Search gives Facebook users the ability to ask a question of all the available data Facebook collects and instantly find compelling, accurate information in answer. For instance, a user would be able to ask 'which of my friends live in North London and enjoy cycling?' find out that information and act upon it very quickly.

More and more visualisation tools are giving us as a consumer a glimpse of the power of our own data. Going back to the initial food example, if our supermarket was bold enough, we'd be able to go onto their website, and see a visualisation of the foods we have bought. From here we ask a question like "how much fat did I consume in December 2012 compared with January 2013?" It would be able to tell us.

From a business point of view, the people that purchase fattier foods could then be targeted with private health insurance or sent a guide on healthy eating - essentially there is a goldmine of upselling opportunities. From a consumer perspective there's an opportunity to see better deals, and an increase in competition, meaning better prices.

Another example of a company dipping their toe in this 'consumer intelligence' water by allowing you to ask questions of your data is Lloyds TSB.

Lloyds customers using money manager2 are able to see how they are spending their money, with their spend automatically broken down into various categories. We should be able to take this further and ask 'how does my home energy expenses compare with other people in my postcode?' to see whether further savings are possible.

This is a great initiative and a good first step but what's really important is for companies to become bolder. With a bit of organisational bravery we will all see the benefits of joined up intelligence.

We have the data, and, as we have proved, the tools to provide the insight. Now all we need is for companies to stop saying how revolutionary they are, and prove it with their actions.

Of course, there will always be privacy concerns with advancements like this, and that's a whole other can of worms. But the point is that with advancement in business intelligence tools, our data should be our choice to use, be it what we eat, what we spend, or whatever else.

1. [Facebook, 2013:]

2. [Lloyds TSB, 2013:]