The Blog

There's a New Currency in Town and it's Not the Malawian Kwacha or Azerbaijani Manat

Whether consumers know it or not, almost every online service, laptop, mobile and app is now collecting data about them and how they consume digital services.

Car manufacturers recently publicly reiterated that they wanted to control and protect data they are collecting from customers who purchase and drive their cars. This indicated a significant change in focus for car manufacturers of recognising that the data they accumulate is worth as much to them as the intellectual property that they invest in. As a result these companies are now looking to amass and retain as much data as possible by investing in technology solutions.

It's not new for companies to expand beyond their core services, indeed, Porsche made headlines a few years ago when it emerged that it had "made six times as much on the stock market as it did making cars". However businesses are rapidly evolving. You wouldn't normally think of BMW or Tesco as a technology companies, but that's the lens through which we need to recalibrate our view of the world.

What we're seeing is that every business, large or small, is now in essence a technology company. Technology now underpins much of how organisations and companies operate on a daily basis, regardless of size or industry. At a basic level, these organisations rely on technology to communicate, complete deals and manage their work load.

The new currency in this technology-driven business world is Data. Personal data - even when anonymised - is incredibly valuable. At a basic level it can be used to paint a picture for those collecting it of individual habits and behaviour. In turn, this information can be leveraged to produce incredibly accurate targeted advertising. One only needs to look at Google, which relies on accumulating data to see how it can propel companies and build new corporate empires.

Whether consumers know it or not, almost every online service, laptop, mobile and app is now collecting data about them and how they consume digital services. And because of the value of all this information, companies jealously guard the data they acquire, preferring to derive the value themselves as opposed to gifting it to rivals. Indeed, it now means that companies from diverse markets like automobile manufacturers and online advertising are now faced with the reality that they are in competition with one another over information. As Audi CEO Rupert Stadler is reported to have recently said "The data that we collect is our data and not Google's data, when it gets close to our operating system, it's hands off."

Of course, with such a premium being placed on data, consumers need to be asking questions of companies and equally companies of themselves. For example, where do you as a company draw the line in terms of data collection and are we, as individuals, content with companies knowing so much about us?

As new technology emerges more questions and reputational challenges will inevitably arise as result of this new gold rush. Take for example the relatively new sector called 'sports tech'; what happens to all the extremely personal data these brands collect, who keeps it, where is it all kept and what is it used for beyond telling us how many calories we may have consumed?

Companies, even those that don't consider themselves to be in the technology business, need to be aware not only are they ever more reliant on technology and data but that over the coming months and years, consumers and stakeholders will become more attuned and self-aware of their digital worth forcing companies to be more transparent.