Given the difficulty in predicting the economic impact of diverse global political decision making – from relations between the US, Russia and China to forthcoming elections in France and Germany – it is no wonder that businesses remain somewhat obsessed with Brexit and the implications of invoking Article 50.
However, is Brexit really the most significant business issue in 2017? Clearly, business leaders should keep an eye on the exit terms being deliberated by government, but these negotiations should not become a distraction.
In fact, one of the biggest issues facing businesses of every size this year is the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018. Organisations will need to work hard over the next 12 months to ensure they’re ready.
At the same time, a quiet revolution is taking place that will fundamentally affect the way businesses operate over the next decade. The speed with which artificial intelligence (AI) is being adopted has increased rapidly in recent months, with organisations now actively looking to develop and deploy technology such as chatbots to replace human contact centres.
>See also: GDPR: What do you need to know?
The AI revolution
In many ways, GDPR and the current AI revolution are born out of the same trend: the need to understand, manage and protect the vast amounts of data now available.
AI’s self-learning capabilities and ability to make sense of huge data volumes certainly open up new business opportunities. At the simplest level, chatbots will replace call centres, using the information provided by a customer’s style and responses to make accurate assumptions about what is required – enabling companies to radically cut the costs associated with both onshore and offshore services.
More complex AI solutions will be used in areas such as affiliate marketing to quickly understand data patterns and historic activity to make incredibly accurate predictions of customer demand.
Not only will AI enable affiliate marketing to match people to the items they want – from trainers to electrical goods – more quickly and efficiently, but automating this process will release highly trained staff from current manual activity, such as spreadsheet analysis and report generation, allowing them to focus on providing more value to clients and publishers.
There is no doubt that during 2017 the application of AI will broaden significantly, with growing numbers of individuals likely to experience direct exposure to chatbots at the very least.
This growth in AI raises the spectre of the ‘bad robot’ and highlights the need for strong controls to safeguard consumers – both their personal data and experience. Which is, of course, where GDPR comes in.
All organisations that handle personal data need to understand GDPR, but the risks and exposure clearly vary significantly. However, any organisation that has built a business based on someone else’s data – such as Google or Facebook – will be massively exposed if that third party fails to put good information controls in place.
GDPR has the goal of putting control back in the hands of the individual by giving everyone the chance to request to see any personal information, to have that information deleted and, most critically for web based organisations, demand not be tracked. That means no more cookies, but the ‘no tracking’ is at browser and device level, not just website.
Right now, while Apple, Google and others are exploring AI solutions to contextualise human behaviour and make predictions based on the data, there is no standard approach, so organisations need to keep a watching brief.
In the meantime, it will be important to put in place auditable, documented processes and policies for managing personal data in line with GDPR, including responding to data requests and data retention/destruction solutions.
Business leaders should be asking third party suppliers to define their GDPR strategies and draft a website policy announcement that outlines the steps being taken to comply.
Politically, economically and technologically we are entering a new era. But GDPR’s potential huge fines and personal liability for company directors also heralds a new era of personal data security with pressure on organisations to pay far more respect to the information captured and retained.
On every front, therefore, business owners face unprecedented change – from the way in which economies interact to the increasing role of smart technologies, from driverless cars to AI, as part of day-to-day life, and customers’ ability to control and protect their own information.
Sourced from Richard Dennys, CEO at Webgains