Personal data is becoming the critical source of value in today’s data-driven digital age. But has the IT profession, and the organisations they work for, really stepped up to the plate in terms of what’s needed to create a sustainable personal data ecosystem?

Right now, a titanic clash is under way between two alternative visions of personal data.

Many businesses have become ‘addicted’ to consumer data, believing the more data they can gather the more they will be able to innovate, engage customers, and grow revenue streams. And if the ways they collect and use personal data clashes with existing norms and rules around privacy and data protection, then that just shows the need for consumers and regulators to catch up to today’s realities.

But more and more people are now warning that the scale and scope of data collection and personal surveillance has become disproportionate and dangerous and many of the uses this data is put to (such as irritating ads that follow you around the internet) bring little or no benefit to consumers. Meanwhile, vast new unaccountable concentrations of data power are threatening to hijack the commercial benefits of the digital age for themselves. 

What's needed, it’s argued, is a new ‘social contract’ of personal data to restore trust.

That’s absolutely true, but we need a way forward that avoids an unpalatable trade-off between privacy or growth. One way to do this is to empower individuals with their own data: to provide them with the means to collect and store their own data, and to share it under their own control.

At first glance, this may seem impractical. Most consumers, it’s said, don’t have the skills and aren’t prepared to invest the time or effort that’s needed to manage their data.

That would be true if it was a DIY project, but not if professional software services made it their business to ensure safety and security, ease of use, and easy control, so that we can manage data sharing with companies they way we manage direct debits and standard orders: clear simple rules, done quickly and efficiently, saving time and effort on both sides while giving consumers control.

Right now, a whole new industry of personal information management services (PIMS) are emerging to fill this market gap. They are spawning a rich array of innovative new services that draw on personal data to help consumers and citizens understand their options better and make better decisions and to use data to help consumers and citizens integrate, orchestrate and administer ‘life management’ jobs, from the chore of ‘manage my car’ (tax, insurance, parking permits, MOTs etc) to big life changes such as retiring.

PIMS are enabling rich, permissioned sharing of verified accurate data in ways that keep consumers in control and help companies provide better, more personalised services at lower cost.

According to Ctrl-Shift’s research, a mature PIMS market in the UK would worth at least £16.5bn (bigger than the automotive and pharmaceutical industries). And that’s just direct revenue growth, ignoring bigger efficiency gains.

For PIMS to prosper they need IT professionals who can help build the services themselves and to oversee data integration with traditional corporate CRM and other systems.