Customer Data Is Now a Two-Way Road. Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing for Companies.

Reflections on the Big Data Expo
Oz Olivo, VP of Product
September 27, 2023

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Big Data Expo in the Netherlands with a number of my Inrupt colleagues. 

As we spoke with data professionals from across different industries at our booth, we discovered that more than ever, both enterprises and end users understand the importance of storing data in a way that responds to individuals’ personal interests and privacy concerns. 

Almost five years ago, our CEO described the web’s journey into “an unclear, but certain, future.” Our time at the conference was a reminder of how much clearer that future has become. Governments and major organizations are using Solid to expand the value of their data, for themselves, their partners and—most importantly—the people they serve. And even more organizations now recognize the need for a holistic, user-centric approach to data.

I was able to present to attendees at the Expo about the opportunity that comes with this new way of storing customer data. Below are some of the thoughts I shared with them.

The web is evolving in phases

The current landscape of customer data scatters our information across different platforms. Data is stored in silos or warehouses, far away from the customers they are supposed to describe. This approach is frustrating for individuals and organizations, as it results in fragmented and out-of-date views of customers, plus large amounts of duplicated data in disconnected databases. 

So how did we get here? To answer that, we have to go back to the very beginning, to when organizations and users first began forming digital relationships. Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989 and at first, it only supported a handful of standards, such as URLs, HTML and HTTP. It was effectively “read only,” which made it great for hosting websites, blogs and other static properties, but not so great for genuine interaction and collaboration.

The next phase of the web—or Web 2.0—allowed for dynamic Read/Write apps and user-generated content, which paved the way for social media and e-commerce platforms. With this shift to a more interactive web, the notion of digital relationships began to emerge—and with that shift came more personalization, backed by targeted ads and third-party cookies. 

Unfortunately, the digital relationships were limited and one-directional. This is because every website, application and platform was building its own bespoke data architecture and identity systems. In Web 2.0 systems, user data is tightly coupled with applications. These data silos lead to fragmented, duplicated, and stale data. Trying to reuse data across more than one service requires API management and complicated ETL and reconciliation processes. 

As the Web 2.0 era continued, different services became more fragmented, as platforms competed to gather and protect “unique” insights into their customers. The user experience and commercial potentials of the web started to degrade, for all but a few organizations. 

The elusive 360-degree customer view

Although data is stored in an application-centric way, we are constantly seeking to use it in a user-centric manner in order to have a complete view of customers. With Web 2.0 data architectures, it is often difficult or even impossible to create a holistic view of a customer. Data may be fragmented among different departments, inconsistent across databases, or out of date. It’s difficult to share data with partners, and the customer is unable to update data directly. The best most organizations can do right now is derive insights from offline data warehouses and data lakes. These efforts result in high overhead costs and reduced value, as they still cannot provide a completely holistic customer view. 

Customers are increasingly distrustful of the whole system. They’re aware data is being collected about them, but they are unaware of how it is being used and for what purpose. According to a Verizon study, 87% of people are concerned about how their data is gathered and used. With data scattered across various web applications, users cannot have a full view of where their data is stored and who has access to it. 

A Visa study found that 76% of respondents wanted more control over how their data is gathered and used. The same study found that 68% of individuals feel that they benefit less from their data than the companies who use it. Ultimately, customers do not trust that their data is being put to use in ways that directly benefit them, and instead feel companies are getting the most out of their personal  data. 

The vital third layer of the web

So what do we do about all of this?

As with the previous phases, the web will continue to evolve to meet the needs of its users. This evolution comes with the innovation of standards. For example, Web 3.0 can best be characterized by a set of W3C web standards called Solid.

Solid focuses on standardizing how data is managed and accessed on the web. The Solid protocol decouples applications from the underlying data. Data is stored in a user-centric architecture instead of an application-centric one. Solid also provides standard protocols for accessing and writing data, as well as for managing access controls, consent records and allowed usage. 

Solid provides a user-centric data store called a Pod, eliminating the need for custom data stores for each app. Pods can store both structured and unstructured data, and support fine-grained access control for all contained data. They offer a platform for 360-degree customer views. Many apps can point to one Pod due to the standardized protocol. This means that applications can enrich, validate and update data — those changes are instantly available to other applications. These processes are all done with user consent and access control enforcement. 

Solid unlocks the full potential of data by enabling users to be direct participants in their data experience: Users provide curated zero-party data and consent for use and sharing. Including users in data collection and sharing increases trust and loyalty with these constituents. Solid also allows for the easy reuse and sharing of data across applications and services, while enabling compliance with emerging data privacy and consent regulations. This reuse of data creates new value from existing data and facilitates innovation.

Here at Inrupt, we develop enterprise-grade implementations of Solid standards. We also work with enterprises and governments in Europe and North America to deploy and manage Solid solutions. We work with these large organizations to create a two-way relationship with individuals, streamlining their data strategy and building more direct relationships with their citizens and customers. The web is moving forward and Solid’s technology is the way to take your organization—whether it’s a government, healthcare, financial services, media, or retail—into a new more user-centric approach focused on an individual’s access controls, consent, and privacy of personal data. 

Want to learn more about how Inrupt can help your organization deploy Solid solutions? Contact our team today.  

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