Thursday 30 August 2012

midata, the loneliest initiative in Whitehall – 6

On 3 November 2011, the department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) issued a press release about midata, their "exciting" plan to empower people and make the economy grow.

On or about 26 July 2012 BIS and the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insights Team jointly issued their midata 2012 review and consultation.

Question – in the intervening 266 days, what did BIS make?

Answer – progress.

How do we know?

Because they tell us. Norman Lamb, the minister responsible, tells us on p.8 of the review that:
I am pleased to be publishing an update on progress on midata and consulting on proposals to provide it with a statutory underpinning.
Only two paragraphs later, there's been more progress:
Under Professor Shadbolt’s Chairmanship progress has been made, with businesses, consumer groups, regulators and Government agreeing core principles about data release, commissioning research into customer attitudes and beginning work on important questions about privacy and security.
It's all go. By p.11:
Progress has been made on establishing a vision and principles. We understand better the current consumer and business perceptions and the need for safeguards when consumers use their data. And we have started to see data made available.
BIS are really quite insistent, p.27:
As this review shows, there has been progress in moving midata from a concept towards reality.
It's clearly been a hectic 266 days, in some ways, for BIS and Professor Shadbolt. What with establishing the vision. And the principles.

They've had to chat with all those businesses and consumer groups and regulators and government departments. And they've had to commission research. Exhausting.

The discovery of the need for safeguards for people's privacy, and the need for security, when you're shunting personal data around must have come as a shock.

It is inevitable in this maelstrom that a few wheels fall off the initial vision. midata was meant to give us control over our own data, as well as access to it, but now control has been droppedmidata was going to be a voluntary scheme but now, perhaps at the suggestion of the Behavioural Insights Team, the idea is to legislate and make it compulsory.

The drafting of that legislation, and generally turning the midata concept into reality, will be a struggle. How will BIS force the banks, for example, to start issuing us all with statements? Professor Shadbolt may well have to hold more discussions and commission more research to crack that one.

And someone still has to come up with a reason to believe that midata would make the UK economy grow – despite all the progress already made, there's a lot of work still to be done.

Let's finish on a positive note with some incontrovertible progress made by the midata team.

Once we've all got all our transactions with every supplier we deal with safely stored in our "personal data inventory (PDI)", as BIS call it, we're supposed to be able to process the PDI in some beneficial way using applications which the market has failed so far to deliver but which, now somehow inspired by BIS, will at last appear.

What sort of applications? This question was posed to Kirstin Green at the 9 August 2012 open forum and the answer seemed a little extempore. The "midators" have obviously thought about the question since then and on 22 August 2012 the top story on the BIS news website was Next steps making midata a reality, which includes a link to A midata future: 10 ways it could shape your choices.

The reader will enjoy all the examples given, of how midata would offer otherwise unattainable benefits which empower the consumer and expand the economy. It is invidious to choose between them.

The first example of the midata future suggests that you could use your PDI to monitor the warranties on all the equipment in your house:
Instead of losing receipts and forgetting when guarantees expire, customers can use a ‘contracts and warranties dashboard’ to keep track of their purchases.
Hard to beat but somehow the tenth example is even more cogent – you can almost feel the economy expanding as you read it, this is why the state has to take order-making powers to promote midata. It's called "Going out" and it reads, in full, as follows:
midata service providers could use an individuals purchase data to look at which restaurants and bars that user like. Taking this data, they could offer you a unique service, alerting you to new or recommended restaurants that suit your taste and location.

So where your favourite restaurant has deals or offers, you could be alerted in advance to take advantage and make a booking. Combined with other services, the programme could also indicate where you could save money or improve your health by eating elsewhere, drinking less or going out less.

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