A new service has just been launched that has received relatively little fanfare in the general media but is a hugely significant moment for the way that personal data is increasingly shaping our economy. The service, from Barclays, is called Cloud It and is a form of Personal Data Store (PDS) where consumers, rather than companies, become responsible for their own data management. It's the first time that a major UK corporate has moved into this area so it may well have a huge impact on other companies who now may well be considering entering this territory.
So what actually is Cloud It? In its current form the service is pretty straightforward. It is designed to allow you to upload your documents, anything from your driving licence to your utility bills, so that you can keep them in all safely in one place. They are stored in a secure cloud environment hosted by Barclays. The documents can be tagged so they can be searched for easily. You can set up alerts so, for example, you can be alerted when your insurance needs to be reviewed and renewed. And of course Barclay's documents such as bank statements can be automatically posted onto your Cloud It service.
The excitement about this is perhaps less about what it does now but what it represents and what it may do in the future. In terms of what it represents, this feels like a fundamental change to the way personal data is handled. At the moment consumers typically give their data about themselves away, pretty much without batting an eyelid, to anyone who asks for it. But there is a growing disquiet about the nature of the value exchange. In a recent study undertaken by GfK only 27% of consumers thought it was a 'good thing' if the data a company holds about them shapes the way they deal with them Added to this the 69% saying they find it creepy the way brands use the information they hold on them, then the way that personal data is currently handled between consumers and brands starts looking a little shaky.
A PDS is a new form of mediation between consumers and brands where consumers can collate information about themselves and then release it to brands as they see fit. The breadth of data from different providers then provides brands with a richness of information which means they can offer the customer much better services designed to meet their needs. An early example of this is Money Supermarket.com, a UK website that gives advice to consumers on how to get the best deals and save money. Their scheme, Cheap Energy Club, requires you to input details of your current energy tariffs and state the amount of saving for which you would be willing to switch. Available tariffs are then reviewed each month and you are alerted when switching would trigger your target saving. So this is a fundamental 'flip' to the usual relationship between consumers and brands.
So, in terms of where Cloud It could potentially go, the next step may be to offer customers the opportunity to share information about their different financial holdings and commitments so that Barclays can tailor services that meet their needs. Of course currently Cloud It only holds documents and not the raw data itself but Barclays will presumably have on their minds the implications of the government's midata programme which has the potential to require brands to make their transaction data available in the 'transportable, machine readable format'. Once this happens it paves the way for a more complete transition to a full PDS model as utilities, retailers, telecoms providers and financial services organisations allow customers to access transaction data, up-loadable to their PDS 'vault' at the push of a button. It then becomes much more feasible to be analysing the data that customers load into the service in this way as it is 'raw data' rather than documents.
And if you are up loading a copy of your passport then how much easier would it be if the government provides you with a digital copy of your passport which you can then use to authenticate your identity? This can then be used when you are setting up utilities or when buying financial services where evidence of your identity is required. This is certainly consistent with the government's digital agenda so we are likely to see some real activity in this area. So whilst at the moment Cloud It has the feel of a 'walled garden' this may not be the case in the longer term as other services come on line.
Of course, it's not at all clear at this point what plans Barclays actually have for Cloud It but it does feel like an early 'toe in the water' for a wider set of PDS services such as those described. Banks are in a strong position to offer this type of service as consumers generally trust them to hold our personal data. In fact, a recent survey by hosting provider Interxion found that 67.5% of people trust banks with their personal data but only 6.25% trust social networks with it.
Cloud It is likely to provide some real momentum to the PDS market and inspire other companies, particularly in the banking sector, to explore the options and enter the fray. But perhaps most importantly it has the potential to create a mental shift in consumers about the way they manage their personal data and in so doing fundamentally changes the personal data landscape.