The age of disruptive personalisation

The future of personal data will see people demand that their data to stop being just ‘numbers’ and start becoming ‘meaning’, an expectation that will extend to all aspects of people’s lives, writes Mark Cameron and co-author of this piece, Claudia Batten. 


Today’s business leaders are under enormous pressure. Beyond dealing with the day-to-day pressures that leading a business in a complex, ‘always-on’ world can bring, leaders today are now under significant pressure to be preparing their business for tomorrow. But what does that actually mean? What will ‘tomorrow’ look like and how fast is change going to be taking place? Ignoring business catch phrases like ‘digital disruption’ and taking a big-picture view of what is happening, there are a few trends that are beginning to take shape and will have a major impact on the business landscape.

Before we jump into that, a quick word of warning about this piece: if you think the acceleration in automated process and digital communications seen over the last decade has brought with it a huge amount of change, well, in the immortal words of the band Bachman Turner Overdrive: you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The next 10 to 20 years are going to see the world of business completely transformed. The speed of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. In fact, it is speeding up. The reason for this is rapid digitisation and commoditisation of the world around us. But developing a long term ‘digital strategy’ needs to go far further than just looking at the area that is the most highly impacted right now, the customer-facing communications channels.

It is important to get these right, but we are rapidly entering a time where everything that can be digitised, will be. What this will mean for businesses, and consumers, is profound. We are entering a world that will dominated by the demands of ‘the individual’, a world where ‘on demand’ will move away from purely digital media purchases and start to apply to everything. Let’s look at one trend that will be shaping the future:


Personal data and convergence

We will start our journey by looking at the recent product updates from Apple. Why here? Because this release was a little bit different from the famously secretive company. It was the first release that that hinted at what Apple’s longer term strategy was. Of course they didn’t tell us directly but if you have a look at where they are investing their effort a couple of things start to become clear. Only a few years after Apple ushered in the world of apps they are now starting to change the rules to focus on data convergence.

While there are many sophisticated mobile apps that can turn your iPhone or iPad into a substitute computer if need be, most of the millions and millions of apps you can purchase do just one thing. Many of those do that one thing very well. The truth is that most people don’t want to use their mobile devices like a computer. They are far more personal. And, in some ways, more powerful. We are not talking about raw computing power, of course. But mobile devices have context. They are with most people 24/7. They know where we are. They know what we are doing. And they are generating trails of data that can pull meaning from our activity as we go about our daily lives.

Most of us are aware of this or, at the very least, have heard about the rapid rise of data that we are all creating. What Apple is now trying to do is help standardise big chunks of this data so it can become far more useful. The relationship we have with our phones is at odds with the current app model in some ways. Opening up lots of different apps, one at a time, to interact with different aspects of our lives is not a seamless experience. In actual fact it seems to be more focused on the features of the app than the needs of person.

The developer features in the new version of iOS are signalling a change in direction for Apple. Although it’s still early days, the two areas that have exploded in recent years are health and home automation. There is a bewildering array of health apps and wearable devices, like Fitbit and Jawbone, available currently. Likewise the home automation space, an industry expected to be worth $48 billion by 2018, is becoming very quickly saturated with everything from lightbulbs to individual power switches you can control from an app on your phone.

What Apple has done is start to standardise and simplify the way these applications work together. This is all about the overall user experience. You may have 25 different health apps on your phone but very soon you will be able to see all of the data they are creating in one place. The same for the apps that can control the lighting, heating and mood of your home.

Add to this Apple’s artificial intelligence personal assistant, Siri, and we will be starting to interact with our computers in a way that starts to look a lot like the omnipresent operating systems in the movie Her. Soon you’ll be coming home and saying to your phone, ‘I’m ready for bed’, and your lights will dim, your TV will turn off, your bedside lamp will turn on and your heating will drop back for the night. Or your phone will start to tell you when you have eaten too much sugar, need to do exercise, or not drunk enough water.

Of course Google is trying to do something similar – it has a huge amount of data about every one of us, after all – but there is an important difference. Apple doesn’t see you as the product. Well not in the same way Google does. For Google (and Facebook for that matter) adverting is the name of the game. They want you to use the internet so they can present ads to you. For Apple it is much more about the purity of the user experience so they are looking to help developers and data sources work together within their ecosystem.

It is likely companies like Apple, Google and Facebook will step up the focus of this personal data usage. They are all looking to grab more of your personal data and serve it back to you in amazing and useful ways. But while much of this data is interesting at first, most people don’t really want to see an analytics dashboard of their lives. What they really want is the data to do something useful. They want it to help them make better decisions.

Whether they know it or not, people want their data to stop being just ‘numbers’ and start becoming ‘meaning’.

Within large scale enterprise businesses the use of predictive analytics is starting to change the way business is done. The power of these tools to crutch large volumes of data and predict potential issues to save time and money is immense. But if the last few years have taught us anything it is that digital evolution is commoditising everything, quickly. This means that the power of predictive analytics, once the sole domain of the very, very large business, will soon be cheap enough that every one of us can have it in our pockets.

Very quickly all of that ‘data exhaust’ we are creating will start to become useful. It will begin to shift away from it only being a way for advertisers to better target messages at us and start to become something we can’t live without. In fact we’ll wonder how we ever made it through the world before we all had our very own digital assistant.

This is a trend being driven by customer demand. As people start to get an increased level of customisation in their ‘digital lives’ they will begin to expect that in all aspects of their lives. And, as new technologies like 3D printing and ‘on-demand’ production techniques begin to take off, many aspects of a product will be able to be controlled by the customer. The book The Intention Economy by Doc Searls laid out this vision when it was published in 2012.

We are already in a time where the customer has more power to impact a brand than ever before. And this is a trend that is going to speed up, particularly as the pace of commoditisation of technology drives prices down to the level of the individual.


Co-author’s profile: Claudia Batten is a serial tech entrepreneur who sold the software venture Massive to Microsoft in 2006, then co-founded crowdsourcing ad agency Victors and Spoils in 2009. Her most recent endeavour is Broadli, an app that helps manage LinkedIn networks. She is also a recipient of the Supreme World Class New Zealand Award.

Image credit: Lauren Manning, via Flickr.

Mark Cameron
BY Mark Cameron ON 10 November 2014
Mark Cameron is CEO of customer experience innovation agency Working Three and a world renowned digital strategy commentator with well over 400 published articles.

Specialties: Digital innovation, Digital customer experience strategy, Social media strategy, Digital strategy, Online Marketing strategy.
He blogs at and tweets from @MarkRCameron.