The three waves of the digital age, leading to consumer power

Third digital wave: consumer power

This wave concerns digital identity and will turn some assumptions about digital upside-down. Consumers' data footprints, collected by smartphones, fitness wrist bands, smart gas and electricity meters, and car insurance monitors, are currently "owned" and analysed by those who gather the information as service or product suppliers, or by organisations that purchase the information from them.

This is the traditional view of big data and it is a core element of the economy of outcomes. Tailoring and integrating complex offerings for customers depends on deep understanding of their desires and needs. Big data can provide this.

But in the future, consumers may choose to take control of their data. They may pass data to trusted business partners, intermediaries who can analyse the information and use it to broker offers from other players in the ecosystem and to enable even more goals, and more valued ones.

For example, as a consumer, I could release my energy usage data and receive tailored offers from suppliers. I could release data about my habits of music consumption and appreciation. Then it is up to music streaming suppliers to tailor a competitive offer to me based on my consumption patterns.

Of course there are significant privacy and regulatory matters to be addressed. But what this wave of digital will depend on is an inversion of our assumptions about big data.

Currently, big data is scary. You surrender your data. Collectors of this information do things with it you are mostly unaware of, for purposes you have not approved, and which will give you neither editing nor deleting rights. This is big data where the company is in charge. Even where companies use the information with good intentions and to try to understand customer needs, they run the show. But there is also another way.

In this new version of the story, the customer does not surrender data, but volunteers it. They use their data as a bargaining chip, bartering with it as the legal and respected owner, with full editing and deleting rights.

This dynamic would help customers achieve valuable goals. They would be in control, using their data like a currency. That's the key: in the digital age personal data is not a product to be sold for a bit of money, but a currency in its own right that can be spent on things that money alone can't buy.

Big rights

Here is another way to look at this. In the digital age people will want two "big rights": on the one hand the "Right to be Forgotten"; on the opposite side of the spectrum, the "Right to be Aggregated". Interestingly, both will require very high levels of trust – especially the latter. Now, that's customer centricity on a new, unprecedented level! It is big data where the customer is in charge.

In this third digital wave, the economy of outcomes is underpinned by critical new ingredients – consumer control and an even higher level of trust.

This dynamic will be critical to the evolution of digital as a means of fulfilling consumers desires on their own terms – what we might call the economy of wishes.

  • Carlo Gagliardi is a Strategy Partner at PwC [Note: This article has been written as part of the Management Consultancies Association's Year of Digital]