|By Drew Bartkiewicz||
|December 14, 2012 03:30 AM EST||
Since the very beginnings of trade and commerce, it has been a commonality that most information exchange between buyer and seller, customer and business, was treated as a discrete, confidential, and almost intimate affair. Trust was earned, not given.
Consider the not so distant history of the local American bank. Banks have been collecting personal information about their customers for decades, harkening back to consultations over a notepad, paper deposit slips, and hand-written applications. The reputations of applicant and banker, buyer and seller, were local reputations, with personal and professional references limited to the confines of the community and the reality of proximity.
Banks large and small managed piecemeal, disconnected snapshots of personal information in random, unstructured, and ultimately inefficient processes that took place without fanfare over the lifetime relationship between client and local banker. "Data collection" was nowhere to be found in the strategic plan, yet banks were the recipients of valuable information regarding their clients: income, investments, payment history, business and family relationships that involved money. Most customers relied only on their local bankers to know them personally and therefore to be capable of making recommendations and offering personalized financial advice. Customer-to-computer interactions, later known as "self-service," were still a fantasy in the minds of fiction writers like George Orwell.
For over a hundred years banks stored their data locally, first in secured filing cabinets, then safes, and as time progressed, on local computers backed up centrally, just as a precaution. By and large the customer relationship and treatment of privacy was based on local proximity and personal discretion. If a breach of confidentiality occurred, it was entirely local in nature, usually involving only a handful of individuals, with minimal impact to the wider community and certainly little impact on the overall banking institution. The relationship was personal, much like the one embodied by George Bailey, the beleaguered banker in the Christmas classic film It's a Wonderful Life. But the landscape of customer information was unique also for cultural reasons and societal norms. Individuals owned their personal information, not banks. This distinction is significant given the incredibly electronic world that now surrounds us.
Today, this data scenario and concept of "confidentiality" is as outdated as the black-and-white movie. Client confidentiality is no longer parsed out in handfuls among consenting and trusting individuals with personal and community ties. Few bank customers today live in the world of George Bailey and his town full of customers he knew by their first names. In fact, it is just the opposite. This is not merely the emerging era of data exchange; it is the beginning of the largest personal data explosion the world has ever seen.
What explosion? Consider this: the average company doubles its amount of data every year, adding more data to our cyber economy than pennies in the Treasury. Data is not the newest asset, it is the pivotal one. And cloud computing is making that data aggregation cheaper and easier than ever, with APIs creating new capture nets across a multitude of mobile devices.
The explosion of data is also going international and isn't anywhere near over. Personal data aggregation is only expanding as more health, financial, and social information elements find their way from individuals and businesses into the "clouds" of networked computers, handheld devices, and massive data warehouses. Not only does the business and professional world know how to collect more data, it is also capable of storing it at lower and lower costs. The old days when confidentiality and personal privacy were held in trusted cocoons of discrete individual relationships are over. Data, the lubricant of automating modern commerce, is essentially loose in the digital ecosystem. It is flowing without interruption across physical and legal borders, feeding the data-hungry environment we have created.
Company reputation, personal privacy, and business risk have new meaning and unprecedented exposures. Knowing how to succeed, or fail, in such a cyber world gives cause for a better understanding of the technology blind spots, for individuals and businesses alike. But how did we get here so quickly, and have we fully evaluated the unintended consequences of our technology addiction and Internet openness?
Given that we now have the benefit of looking backward, we can see a convergence of three key forces that accelerated the data explosion: information economics, information technology, and information culture. All three factors have occurred so quickly and in such a parallel fashion that it is difficult to determine which came first or which caused the other. Each of these factors will be discussed in sequential articles from the published book, Unseen Liability, the Irreversible Collision of Technology and Business Risk.
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