Tuesday 16 July 2013

mirelationship with midata

"Today’s most successful businesses are the ones that are creative about building customer relationships". That's what Jo Swinson says. It's not obviously true. But she's the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) minister in charge of consumer affairs and that's how BIS have chosen to try to sell midata.

The consultancy advising BIS on midata, Ctrl-Shift, reckons that these days "the challenge (and opportunity) is to start building an information sharing relationship with customers where both sides use data sharing to save time, cut costs and be more efficient – and to add new value". If you're in any doubt, just remember that "far-sighted managers recognise the ground is shifting under their feet. If they don’t adapt they risk medium to long-term isolation and marginalisation". Are you far-sighted? Or isolated and marginalised.

That message is reiterated by Mydex, the personal data store (PDS) company. Mydex is closely related to both Ctrl-Shift and BIS and they say that PDSs "transform relationships between individuals and organisations to both sides’ benefit" (p.7). And from his position on the midata strategy board, the chairman of Mydex seems to have convinced BIS that midata needs PDSs to work.

The relationship in question is generally between individuals who buy products and services and the companies that sell them. But according to the Young Foundation last November Mydex and its PDSs will also transform the relationship between "the citizen and the state" – "It is a bit like flipping a world where companies engage in ‘customer relationship management’ into one in which individuals engage in ‘vendor relationship management’. Now the citizen is in charge".

And that same promise is made by the Cabinet Office in connection with data-sharing: "Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude today [25 April 2012] made a statement in response [to an article in the Guardian], pointing to the Government’s commitment to putting the citizen in charge, not the state".

Do you believe Mr Maude? Do you even understand what he's saying? You'll be "in charge", not the state – what does that mean?

Are the Young Foundation right when they suggest that the result of sharing your data with, say, Nestlé will be to put you in charge of the company? In what way will telling Nestlé that you like Gold Blend® be to your benefit? What are Mydex talking about? And do you think that Nestlé will be isolated and marginalised if you don't tell them?

Is Jo Swinson right that the most successful companies are those that build a relationship with you and that midata will make the economy grow? Before you answer, would it help to know that BIS's own economist working on midata – David Miller – isn't convinced?

Do you want to be badgered all day every day with a lot of nosy questions about your Gold Blend® consumption? If you ask Norman Lamb, Jo Swinson's predecessor at BIS, what all this relationship lark amounts to, that seems to be the intention: "midata also creates opportunities for new markets to develop where businesses help consumers use their data to make better consumption decisions and lifestyle choices" (p.10).

And how much do you think you'll have to pay for all this helpful lifestyle advice?

What we seem to have here is a concerted campaign whose stated objectives give rise to a lot of questions the answers to which are not obvious. The only effect of this campaign that is clear is that you will hand over all/a lot of your personal data to companies and government departments. Is that what you would like to do? Why?

Remember that Mydex is not just a PDS supplier – it is also one of the UK's eight appointed "identity providers". As part of Mr Maude's Identity Assurance Programme (IDAP), Mydex's job will be to confirm that you are you when you apply for Universal Credit, for example, or when you attempt any other digital-by-default on-line transaction with the government.

You don't think, do you, that a PDS is actually a sort of dematerialised ID card? And that that's actually why all the jovial souls above want you to organise all your data for them? To make IDAP work. At least that would make sense, unlike all the strange claims above.

IDAP was meant to be "fully operational" by March 2013, four months ago. That's what Mr Maude's Government Digital Service (GDS) promised, and there's no sign of it yet. Once these chaps have got used to missing deadlines it tends to become habit-forming. So there's no need to hurry. Take your time before making your mind up.

But if you do ever find yourself being tempted to sign up to midata, do remember that it's not a trivial decision, as Mydex themselves warned everyone the other day ("MIL" = midata Innovation Lab):

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