Data Ownership: Who Owns Data, and What Is It Worth?

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Sales, Marketing and Product Data Ownership, Value and Security

Data ownership: who owns sales, marketing and product data, and how valuable is it? Every day, we are told data is valuable.

Data is the new currency and the basis for our have-it-your-way, right-now, real-cheap economy.

We continually hear about how essential and valuable data is, yet there is less discussion related to quantifying that value. Meanwhile, has anyone really defined who “owns” data and what data ownership actually means? The answer is, “sort of.”

Companies collect, store, manipulate, sell and use data to conduct business every hour of every day. The common consensus is that individuals own “their” personal data.

However, at the same time, voluntary sharing of that data grants certain permissions to recipients and others who might come into possession of our personal data and data that is considered private or confidential.

The common consensus also suggests that with those permissions come certain responsibilities and obligations related to the stewardship of that data.

These vague permissions and responsibilities are slowly being formalized and codified in laws and regulations.

During 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation went into effect within the European Union. This body of law seeks to codify certain obligations, responsibilities, rights and privileges related to data ownership and stewardship of others’ data within our possession.

The US Senate is kicking around potential legislation aimed at requiring the heaviest users of data to disclose specifics about the data they are utilizing and provide some indication of what that data is worth to them monetarily.

A new Vermont law regulates data brokers and requires them to register and report their activities involving data associated with Vermont citizens.

Why should you care about data ownership and security? Here are four reasons:

1. Data Storage Considerations

Your data is the raw material your information systems and applications use to execute all of the assorted business processes that make your enterprise work.

Here are some considerations for data storage:

  • What happens if those applications fail?
  • Can you get to your data?
  • What if one of your strategic supplier partners is sold or merged out of existence
  • Can the successor lock you out of your data?
  • Is the data available elsewhere?
  • Is the data trapped in a proprietary software product or third-party repository?

Many older enterprises are still utilizing COBOL-based internal apps. Many of these would be characterized as old, complex and beyond the understanding of the current IT personnel responsible for maintaining them. What happens when these systems finally crash or become incompatible with your overall architecture? Is the data lost?

Your CRM system is powered by specific data about your customers and prospects. Your CPQ system contains detailed information about your products and manufacturing processes. HR systems contain specifics about your employees, and your financial systems are filled with data about your company and its financial health. It is important to understand and ensure how the data associated with any application or system can be separated and accessed outside of the system itself.

Companies should play out “what if” scenarios with regard to how easily it would be to get to your data in situations where the associated application or system is not available. If your customer information system is suddenly disabled, you should be able to access, update and manipulate the raw data powering that system. There are many tools available to help you accomplish that, but they only work if the data itself is accessible.

2. Data Ownership and Value

Your data has a value to someone. If you have a partner that supplies you with critical parts for your flagship product, can that partner make inferences regarding your order book, based on the business they conduct with you? If you only order 100 widgets this month instead of the usual 5,000, is that indicative of a business collapse? Can your vendor legally disclose your purchasing data to third parties?

Data analytics is the process that analyzes data to make useful inferences and provide actionable information to decision-makers. If your partners are harvesting data generated by their relationship with your enterprise, are you able to protect your interests in terms of the re-use of that information without your consent? Anytime data is shared, specific agreements should be in place to protect the integrity of your data and to ensure that any further use of that data is governed by that agreement.

Credit-reporting agencies disclose your payment performance, debt load and other specifics on a regular basis. What about other partners you interface with? How do you make sure the data shared about you is accurate? How do you prevent the unauthorized disclosure of proprietary data?

3. Data Liability

What responsibilities have you incurred with the data you have in your custody? Are you financially liable for the misuse of your data by parties you do business with? You should make your customers and partners aware of what data of theirs you have in your custody. They should be informed and educated about what your policies and processes are with regard to protection of that data, if you sell that data and what opt-out protections exist for them.

The news is full of stories of this or that company being hacked and the resulting exposure of thousands of customer records to unauthorized parties. Care must be taken to establish a track record of protection and prevention. Lost or stolen data will almost certainly result in some legal liability. Companies that have a demonstrable history of carelessness or lack of regard for data privacy will fare worse during litigation than those that have exhibited effort to protect their data through responsible practices and protective infrastructure.

4. Data Marketability

Is your company data marketable? What rights do you have to monetize your data?

There are numerous data brokers who will work with companies to help them bring their data to market. Data related to marketing, creditworthiness, risk mitigation and individual contact data all have value in this marketplace. Before you turn over your customer files to a broker or buyer, you should be certain that you have the proper permissions to do so.  These permissions are becoming more and more common within the legal agreements governing relationships between buyer and customer.

Data Ownership and Custody

The conversation about company and user data, reselling that data and custody of that data can quickly become emotional. People, with justification, have some opinions and expectations regarding the use of their personal data. Those should be honored by companies entrusted with that data or having access to that data.

Responsible Data Applications Can Benefit Customers and Enterprises

Regardless, there is incredible opportunity and benefit for individuals and enterprises sharing and using our personal data.

Companies can be far more responsive to individual customers when they have detailed profiles related to preferences and specific tastes associated with that customer.

This benefits the customer, as well as the vendor. Clearly, data management is still evolving.


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