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Thursday, 30 July 2015

Me, Inc as a HAT

Today's corporations use IT to be incredibly efficient and effective. There are IT systems for finance, accounting, inventory management, supply chains, material and enterprise resource planning. All the tools necessary for the corporation be viable and profitable amid constraints of regulation. Corporations hold vast amounts of data to achieve this. Data about production, materials, inventory, data about customers, in fact, nothing can be achieved within the modern corporation today without data and information. The corporation is also able to buy digital services of all sorts to analyse, process and make decisions from the data, from sorting out accounting to HR. Indeed, many corporations outsource and buy in capabilities that are not core to their competencies.

Today's individuals are also using IT to also be efficient and effective. Aided by the Internet, www and our smartphones, we can organise our lives and our families, work from home, have information access at our finger tips. But in terms of computational capability, data and our ability to buy digital services, we are very far behind the corporation. Where they have data on inventory, we barely know what is in our cupboards and fridges. Where they can buy services that augment their abilities, we can just about buy a translator, maps, currency exchange. Where corporations can look back on data to inform better future decisions, we can barely recall what we ate last week. Where corporations can be omniscient through their devices and sensors, we can just about put up a camera to check on our house remotely.

The market doesn't seem to work in our favour. More firms are coming into the digital space to share our data amongst one another, asking us for our permission to do so but the revenue models are usually ad driven or worse, selling our data, albeit anonymised, to other firms. We are starting to use our Facebook or Twitter identity data to sign on to other digital services and allowing whatsapp or LinkedIn to tap into our contact list. Essentially, as more digital applications proliferate, the more we are being harvested for our data and the more we are being sold advertising.

Two factors contribute to this. First, we often place little value on our own data, and are prepared to sign them away for the simplest service e.g. the way we give away browser cookies to peruse a website. It is as though the corporations out there find our data precious but we, because we don't have use of them for ourselves, have little regard for the data. Second, we don't have computational or system capability to use our data as well. We don't have a software platform that enables better well being, integrating different data, not like corporations do. Firms can buy software platforms for enterprise planning, organising and coordinating but we can't. In addition, human beings use data quite differently from corporations. We cluster data and usage of objects according to our day to day contexts. Data from Tesco shopping, car journey and school pickup are bundled together more meaningfully as a "mummy run" context than saying something to grocery, automotive and education vertical sectors.

So how do we square this? Within the HAT project team, we've spent a lot of time thinking about personal data and we are aware of the Digital Catapult laudable effort to create a framework to ensure privacy, security, confidentiality and trust for personal data. When it is ready, we would certainly buy in to such a framework. Meanwhile, we are taking a much faster route.

If corporations have so much computational powers, abilities to buy services, use data effectively and have rights to keep their own data private, then why don't we just make a corporation out of everyone? Why can't each person have a server identity, much like an online shop is a server. If our relationship with our host provider is the same type of relationship between Tesco and their server hosting provider, the relationship would certainly be more equitable and I assume the host would not have a right to poke around Tesco's data. More importantly, if I decide to change hosts, I can move all my data to a different host. Essentially, I can be my own 'corporation' with my own 'personal resource planning' platform with inventory of my stuff, data about my health, well being, etc. In fact, if I have the HAT, there would be an easy way to buy apps to view, analyse, and organise my data.

As we begin the alpha release of the HAT in September to our experimental group of 100 users, and later on to a wider community, I am mindful of the implications if we truly succeed in this. If we do, we would essentially be looking at potentially half a billion people being 'corporatised' this way when they sign on to get their own HATs. And as they do so, they will be empowered to store, analyse, buy apps and manage their data like they have never been able to do before and more importantly, they will be able to speak to corporations 'server-to-server', API to API, leveraging on the legal framework that binds firm to firm relationships that is far more equitable than firm to consumer relationships. Some individuals may decide to bring emails back to their own server, since the ontology of the HAT schema flattens data and therefore can help combine email data with other data for better planning, searching and organisation. It feels terribly powerful to have your own server, even if what you have to organise is only your own data. But the platform would certainly be attractive to developers who can create better applications to help us view, analyse, track and organise your own data that could be combined with third party datasets for better matching or recommendation services. The amazing thing about the HAT is that as a server, you can also share your data in a "peer-to-peer" manner. This means I can share my location on a realtime basis (e.g. My iPhone location data) with my husband so when he pulls out his hat, he can see my location that is shared with him and it's no one's business except the two of us. And the apps I buy to view, analyse and organise my data would not have access to my data as its like me buying a piece of software in the old days and installing it on a PC not connected to the Internet. But if I do want to share it, I can just create a data debit (which is the way all HAT data leaves the HAT) and share it with whoever I please for a time period of my choosing. Such is the HAT. A personal resource planning system for the individual. Finally.

Even as we get ready to release the HAT over the next 6 months, I have not missed the irony that the way we have engineered a market for personal data to give control and empowerment back to the individual is to make us look like firms. Making ourselves a mirror image of the firm's digital presence might get us some respect and fair treatment, within the prevailing legal framework governing business-to-business relationships rather than being treated as passive consumers being harvested for our data. Perhaps. Wouldn't it be funny to have Amazon concerned about their data being harvested when they come to the HAT platform to provide buying recommendations. But it's ok. It's all API to API so everyone would share exactly what they are willing to share. Such is the equitability of a B2B system. I believe we have one chance, and the timing is now, at the cusp when the two major industries of manufacturing is colliding with the Internet through the Internet-of-Things, that we can jump in and introduce a system that brings back control to the individual, in a way that is innovation and economy friendly. And we will need courage. From firms, government, individuals who will back our revolution to reclaim our own data and control when the time comes to launch the HAT initiative publicly in the next few months.

And what of democracy then, when this HAT server that is the augmented and amplified us is able to interact with governments and firms on a more level playing field? Would we finally get more collective power as a society through better coordination, better collaborative consumption through standardised platform that is scalable for apps to interact with and yet uniquely personal to us as individuals with our own data? We wait to see. I have spent more than 20 years helping firms with value, worth, service and their business/economic models to generate more profits. Seems helping individuals to be 'firm'-like could be a win-win for all with better control for individuals, yet innovation friendly, creating more jobs and greater opportunities in the digital economy.

Finally, if this is truly successful, I am also mindful that the divide between those who can afford an augmented and amplified self through a server and those who cannot. It could potentially create a bigger divide between the haves and have-nots. The HAT would be free, up to a degree of storage and depending on who you choose as your HAT host, much like www is free. Yet, the asset of our own HAT is to have more of our own data in it so that it can be leveraged for services and exchanges. If the well being of society is at stake, then it is our interest to ensure every one, young and old, rich or poor, be given a HAT. Fortunately, the entire ontology, schema and database is open sourced and free for anyone to innovate on. Although, if you are a user and do not want to build your own software. you might prefer to just get it off a HAT platform host. In the UK, this would be and in Singapore More HAT platform hosts are coming soon in your country so check this space. To be one of the first to get a HAT, sign up here.

Watch out for the HAT white paper on "why everyone should have a HAT: implications for government, industry and society" soon to be released in September. Sign up to be informed of the HAT release activities here