Who Said Data is Dull?

I can’t remember a time when so much was happening in data. Every day it seems there is another organisation talking in terms of data as a key business asset and how they’re committed to a data strategy to drive business profits and growth. No longer do we just need to rely on the Tesco’s Club Card case study to promote the benefits of data.

Major consulting organisations including IBM, Accenture and Deloitte are investing heavily in data services for clients. Acquisition-happy Oraclehas made its first purchase of the year, announcing in January that it has acquired data-quality vendor Silver Creek Systems. Last week Informatica acquired master data management specialist Siperian.  

Volunteered Personal Information (VPI), described as “the next customer revolution”, was debated in front of a packed audience at the IDM Data Council evening in January If practical, VPI would deliver some powerful benefits. The market for data is clearly an exciting area with lots of activity going on. But it doesn’t stop there.

On the data supply side, the UK Government has just launched a major drive to make public data available to citizens through the www.data.gov.uk portal which is intended to act as a central repository initially with some 2,500 datasets. Such new public data sets  will be invaluable to application developers and marketers (and I don’t mean for junk mail).  

At the same time, government through the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is proposing the removal of the Edited Electoral Register (EER) as a recommendation of its Walport Report which followed the investigation of the HMRC data loss. The MoJ is seeking feedback by 23rd February – do let them know your thoughts.

Importantly for the marketing industry, the DMA launched its new data security standard DataSeal, developed with BSI, again in response to the growing number of data breaches. 

Only one of these developments might be viewed as negative by the marketing industry – the possible withdrawal of the EER. This is an important reference file for data verification solutions, which are driving the significant improvements in data quality and more precise marketing programmes that are the norm these days.  

The fear is that the removal of the EER could easily achieve the opposite and maybe take us back to the dark days of unnamed, untargeted junk mail.  This would be a tragedy with the DM industry having just smashed its 2009 environmental targets set by DEFRA.

Perhaps however, the government has understood this and is being particularly shrewd?  Having Local Authorities produce two versions of the Electoral Register must create extra costs. Also the current opt out box may be missed or be confused by citizens and is at best a compromise. One option the MoJ has put forward, and on which it is seeking comment, is to release the full Electoral Register for selected purposes such as data validation only. 

This is certainly going to be the option I’ll be promoting within the IDM and recommending to the MoJ. Clearly, there will be data security concerns about releasing the full ER especially after so many data breaches. These would be effectively addressed by making it available only through official ICO (or a similar trusted organisation) accredited bureaux, qualification for which would include meeting financial measures and also achieving the DMA DataSeal or ISO27001 data security standards. 

In addition, security could be ensured through inserting dummy records or “seeds” in all ER extracts too. These are already widely used by commercial data owners to protect their data. If the worst happened this would quickly highlight any misuse so that fast and appropriate action could be taken by the ICO, including the possibility of levying one of its new £500,000 fines.

Anyway, let’s not allow data security fears restrain the positive development of data as an important driver of business growth – there are simple and effective solutions.

What’s important is that these really are exciting times for those of us in data. I hope this positive message gets through to those about to start or change their careers as we desperately need the best talent.

By Adrian Gregory, chairman of the IDM Data Council and chief executive of DQM Group

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