Richard Purcell: The Digital Economy

November 4th, 2014

The Digital Economy

Vancouver is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities in Canada.  Yet, despite the diversity of its citizenry, Vancouverites all deal with the same economy.  Or do they?  Is our economy becoming more diverse as advanced technologies create innovative products and services?  Does our future include new ways to buy things, or new ways to pay for them, or even new currencies with values determined at a global level?

Earlier in October, over a hundred experts across a multitude of industries gathered at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle to examine how our economy is becoming more diverse and fragmented.  This meeting of the Digital Economy Congress created enthusiastic dialogue about the myriad parts of our economic models from digital currencies to ways we seek shelter while traveling.  These explorers of the coming digital economy understood that our economy is being disrupted by new technologies that are available to nearly everyone to use to find new ways of doing things – buying, selling, connecting, paying.  We are entering an exciting economic era.

The basis of all economies is trust.  Those pieces of paper we carry are evidence that we trust our governments to honour their face value.  Online shoppers trust that their orders will be filled accurately, deliveries will be on time and the products will be as advertised.  Nearly every day, we purchase some product or service that we trust will be delivered.

We challenge that trust when we move our economic activity to the virtual world where we cannot meet the seller, touch the merchandise or judge the quality of the store.  We have begun stretching the trust model into new territory.  For over a decade, we have become accustomed to new ways of buying and selling, first through eBay, then Amazon, and now Etsy.  Each has disrupted prior economic models.

Our initial panel of explorers examined the issues of trust in our economic activities emphasizing the need to maintain brand value through transparency and fairness in dealing with the troves of information gathered in online transactions.  A panel of online retailing experts dove into the ways consumers are taking more control over their shopping searches and purchases.  They brought forward the ways merchants are responding to the better-informed consumer.  Large retail stores are learning from their smaller competitors how to provide a more human touch online.  And smaller firms are learning from the big companies how to incorporate showroom technologies to provide more choices for their customers.

Our explorers learned from both provincial and federal ministries how government agencies are investing in advanced technologies to make services more available to citizens through better online access, reliable authentication and stream-lined benefits deliveries.

This opened up the dialogue to examine how public cloud services are growing rapidly and expanding our access to services that were previously contained within specialized channels.  They focused on how access to platform, infrastructure and services offerings has lowered costs for businesses, expanded their ability to create new products and services and made available those services to consumers anywhere and anytime.  These are truly disruptive.  The next panel explained just how much those services are generating in terms of information about what people are looking at and buying as well as where they are and who they are with.  This massive amount of information, or Big Data, requires equally massive analysis to help companies make sense of it all and to create reasonable decision-making opportunities.  These explorers discussed the intricacies of dealing with structured data, like product purchases, and unstructured data, like web sites and social media posts.

As cloud services and big data analytics progress, things will only get messier, as our next set of explorers said, when the Internet of Things proliferates.  Also called the Internet of Everything, the idea that our world will be a gigantic integrated network of sensing devices pulling data from our streets, houses, cars, phones, malls and nearly everywhere else we are.  These embedded sensors and connected objects enable an environment that listens to our behaviours and can respond by anticipating and meeting our needs through advanced personalization and contextualization of services.

Where does all this exploration take us?  Once the genie is out of the bottle, there are effects that we simply cannot control.  Does all of this digital disruption lead us to a better place?  Or are the technologies so powerful that they will always run ahead of our ability to reasonably and properly police their use?

Just as Vancouver has become diverse, so has our economy.  No longer can we expect a unilateral economic model built on closed systems controlled only by those with power.  As we as individuals gain more and better access to producers, distributors and sellers, we are able to turn our economy into a more democratic system.  Is this a good thing?  Will we control our base interests sufficiently to become the trusted stewards of our economic well-being?  Will we respect and protect the vital information about our customers and clients?

Join the dialogue and help us all advance into the Digital Economy – Join our Congress!

Richard Purcell - CEO, Corporate Privacy Group

Richard Purcell has been a leading voice in addressing consumer privacy and data protection challenges since the late ‘90’s. He leads Corporate Privacy Group (CPG), an independent consulting firm focusing on establishing sustainable and effective information security and privacy programs. CPG supports multi-national corporations, Internet start-ups and government agencies in planning, developing, and implementing enterprise-wide […]