The business case for user empowerment

At the end of the day, every good idea stays and falls with the business model. If there is no working business model, the best idea will fail. Some ideas appear at a later time and are successful then. Let’s take tablets. I used a Windows tablets back in the days of Windows XP, way before the Apple iPad arrived. But it obviously was too early for widespread adoption (and yes, it was a different concept than the iPad, but one that is quite popular these days again).

So, when talking about user empowerment, the first question must be: Is there a business case? I believe it is, more than ever before. When talking about user empowerment, we are talking about enabling the user to control their data. When looking at the fundamental concept we have outlined initially back in 2012 as Life Management Platforms (there is an updated version available, dating late 2013), this includes the ability of sharing data with other parties in a controlled way. It furthermore is built on the idea on having a centralized repository for personal information – at least logically centralized, physically it might be distributed.

Such centralized data store simplifies management of personal information, from scanned contracts to health data collected via one of these popular activity-tracking wristbands. Furthermore, users can manage their preferences, policies, etc. in a single location.

Thus, it seems to make a lot of sense for instance for health insurance companies to support the concept of Life Management Platforms.

However, there might be a counterargument: The health insurance company wants to get a full grip on the data. But is this really in conflict with supporting user empowerment and concepts such as Life Management Platforms? Honestly, I believe that there is a better business case for Health Insurance Companies in supporting user empowerment. Why?

  1. They get rid of the discussion what should happen to e.g. the data collected with an activity tracker once a customer moves to another health insurance company – the user can just revoke access to that information (OK, the health insurance still will have to care for its copies, but that is easier to solve, particularly within advanced approaches).
  2. However, the customer still might allow access to a pseudonymised version of that data – he (or she) might even do so without being a customer at all, which then would allow health insurance companies to gain access to more statistical information, allowing them to better shape rates and contracts. There might be even a centralized statistical service for the industry, collecting data across all health insurance companies.
  3. Anyway, the most compelling argument from my perspective is another one: It is quite simple to connect to a Life Management Platform. Supporting a variety of activity trackers and convincing the customers that they must rely on a specific one isn’t the best approach. Just connecting to a service that provides health data in a standardized way is simpler and cheaper. And the customer can use the activity tracker he wants or already does – if he wants to share the data and benefit from better rates.

User empowerment does not stand in stark contrast to the business model of most organizations. It is only in conflict with the business models of companies such as Facebook, Google, etc. However, in many cases, the organizations such as retailers, insurance companies, etc. do not really benefit from relying on the data these companies collect – they pay for it and they might even pay twice through unwillingly collecting information that is then sold to the competition.

For most organizations, supporting user empowerment means simplified access to information and less friction by privacy discussions. Yes, the users can revoke access – but companies also might build far better relationships with customers and thus minimize that risk. There are compelling business cases today. And, in contrast to 2012, the world appears being ready for solutions that force user empowerment.

This article has originally appeared in the KuppingerCole Analysts' View newsletter.



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