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The movie Minority Report got Katryna Dow thinking about how we can take back control of our personal data. That was 10 years ago, but the idea is not sci-fi any more. Katryna’s company Meeco is real – and it’s one of the leading proponents of the personal data economy. She spoke to MEF Minute…

If anyone is struggling to get his or her head round the idea of the personal data economy, ask Katryna Dow about her X-rays.

The founder of Meeco is a busy woman. A busy woman running a start-up that is half based in Australia and half based in the UK.

A stupendously busy woman.

So when she came face to face with hospital bureaucracy that needed three weeks to process her X-ray results after a routine procedure, Katryna did what busy women do – she cajoled the authorities into giving the X-rays to her.

That way, SHE passed the results around the required departments. A process that should have taken three weeks took three hours. Leaving Katryna more time to board planes and get on with running her international business.

To repeat, it’s the perfect real world analogue for the revolution Katryna and others like her are trying to achieve in the digital space. In other words, take data away from inefficient organisations that don’t talk to each and give it the individual instead.

Meeco is building towards this future with an app that lets people curate a huge amount of information about themselves. It comprises ‘life tiles’ that organise basic profile information, contacts, browsing habits, favourite brands and so on.

Users can add content to the app either through APIs (Facebook etc) or by capturing it themselves. They can then share some or all of this information with other Meeco-using contacts or organisations.

But the company also has a more consultative brief. Through its Labs division it helps enterprises look at their business flows to see where a fresh take on personal data can improve processes.

She explained more about her personal story and the ideas behind Meeco…

Screen Shot 2016-10-27 at 10.41.15What’s the story of Meeco’s creation?

It actually started with sci fi. I was always into it, and I saw the Tom Cruise film Minority Report when it came out. Like everyone I was really struck by the scenes where the ads jumped out and followed people down the street. But my main thought was: is this really our future? Can we only get convenience for diminished agency? It seemed like a Faustian bargain and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

How did that translate into starting a company?

It was 2007 and I was doing strategy for a financial services firm. I came up with an idea around exploring how investors make decisions rather than focus on what they invest in. To do this meant storing all their data in one place in the cloud and accessing it across different devices.

This sounds pretty normal now. But this was pre-iPhone and pre cloud storage. My colleagues said the idea was interesting but crazy. They just couldn’t see life revolving around a device.

Later I was running a financial services startup but these ideas of data and insight and knowledge and power wouldn’t go away. I woke up one day thinking ‘is this really what i want to do?’ So I left to start Meeco. When my colleagues asked me how it would all work, I said I had no idea!

What happened next?

I wrote a manifesto in 2012. The talk then was all around how data is the new oil. But there was much less talk about new models that could emerge around it.

How do you explain the benefits of the personal data economy idea for people unfamiliar with it?

I see the evolution of manufacturing as the best parallel. Look at how companies like Toyota have optimised the way they built products over the last 50 years. They’ve looked hard at what to do and when to do it in order to make the process smooth and efficient. As a result, the cost of shipping and managing inventory has plummeted.

I see personal data as an extension of that. Consumers have been left out of that revolution in their own lives. So I see the personal data economy as all about making processes smooth and efficient by putting people at the centre – letting them use smart agents to help make better decisions and get faster results.

When this happens everyone will have their own micro-economy in a sense. And the collective result of all these micro efficiencies will be huge.

What sort of reaction do you get from this thinking when you talk to companies?

More and more of them are thinking about it anyway. Regulation like GDPR is forcing them to. But more generally, they are open to anything that can make their interaction with customers more efficient. And more trusting.

We talk to companies about all the things that helped them with their B2B relationships. Thinks like CRM and ERP. They’re already talking to other companies through agents and software. Why not customers?

So, yes, big data is amazing for detecting big patterns, crowd behaviour etc. But when you’re trying to serve this particular person right now, it doesn’t work. Giving back data to customers is the key to unlocking that. And more agency leads to greater trust and more sharing, which leads to more personalisation. So it goes on.

Are you confident people will self-organise?

Human beings have been organising since the dawn of time. We all have filing cabinets and drawers. The experience just has to be designed right.

You already gave the X-ray example. Any other real-life scenarios?

I recently made an insurance claim when I lost my headphones on a plane. It’s close to three months now and still nothing. I’m considering giving up. And yet I have all the information on my Meeco app – the receipt, the product serial numbers, even the boarding pass for the airline.

All I am asking is for organisations to open up their processes to give everyone the chance to make things happen faster. Now, I know that some organisations design their flows to be difficult and to put people off.

But against that I would say there’s a new generation of consumers out there who won’t put up with it. They’ll demand an Uber style alternative – and they’ll get one.