I first came across the concept of Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) in a new chapter by Doc Searls for the 10th Anniversary Edition of the Cluetrain manifesto. Meeting Doc Searls recently and then attending the London VRMHub meetup has given me a better idea of what is happening in the VRM space. Having worked in the CRM space for many years the idea of VRM seemed very radical but i knew it made sense. The essence of VRM is really around individuals having control of their own personal data and their relationships with organisations and how they interact with them. Today each company a person interacts with maintains their own separate information that is often hard to access externally. Moving house highlights the problem of just how many companies you need to tell to change their data about you. So with VRM an individual should be able to maintain their own personal data store (ie address, contact details, wish lists etc) and decide who and how much of that they share with organisations. It also includes the idea of people being able to issue a personal RFP for what they want (ie a digital camera with 12megapixels, supporting RAW for a budget of $300) and then allowing companies to respond with their best offers reversing the current model of having to hunt down what you want from sellers.
This is disruptive as it shifts power from the sell side to the demand side. It’s a kind of revolution waiting to happen.
So it raises a number of questions as follows:-
Why would companies be interested in getting involved ?
Well VRM if done correctly should be able to benefit both demand and sell side. Allowing people to share information with organisations they trust could result in organisations having a more complete picture of a person not just filtered through their own narrow view. Sharing a wish list or history of items already purchased from different places should allow companies to present offers that are more aligned to the person’s interest and needs.
The other answer is that people want control of their own data and this demand will increase and ultimately organisations will need to respond and respect how their customers want to interact with them.
Those companies who embrace this first have an opportunity to gain great PR and a competitive advantage.
What is happening in this space right now ?
So VRM is still quite embryonic at the moment. A few different projects are underway in different areas. A good one page overview of what VRM is can be found at http://www.vrmhub.net/vrm-in-a-nutshell/. The main project site is maintained at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard under the guidance of Doc Searls.
A few of the projects underway include :
- The MINE project – tools to allow individuals to manage and share through personalised feeds their personal data both identity based and any data the user authors such as photo’s, blogs, videos etc
- The MINT project – focussing on how to get transactional information from organisations shared using standards such as JSON, XML, CSV, atom etc
- MyDex – storage of personal data with ability to specify which data is shared with which organisations and notification of changes to certain data
- PAOGAperson – secured safety deposit box for personal identification data that also enables data to be verified/certified
- MySortingOffice – relationship specific email addresses with ability to embed selected personal data for sharing with specific organisations or people
- EmanciPay project – a new model for the media marketplace allowing consumers to choose how to pay and how much they pay on their own terms for content they consume.
The driving force behind these different initiatives varies from those approaching it from an individual perspective of managing your own data (ie MINE) to those focussed on the relationship between an individual and an organisation (ie MyDex).
These different projects and approaches also highlight the many forms of different “personal data” that exists. At a high level it would include all of the following :
- Identity based data (ie name, address, email, telephone, NI number, passport number etc) – this type of data is fairly static in nature and can often be subject to validation and verification
- Transactional data (ie purchases, usage based such as mobile or utility data, banking transactions like direct debits) – this is data held by organisations that provide services that can be bought or consumed (ie Amazon, HSBC etc)
- Records based data (ie medical records, HR, credit history, electoral records, tax records, student records etc) – stored by organisations
- Personally authored data (ie blogs, photo’s, wish lists, video’s, favourite links, documents etc) – often stored in a variety of online tools such as WordPress, flickr etc
How can you get involved ?
Firstly through education. There is an opportunity to discuss and engage with organisations about this new way of doing business and help them understand the opportunity. Disruptive messages can make a difference. Here is a good slide deck from Adriana Lukas who is one of the VRM evangelists in the UK and organises the monthly VRMHub in London.
Secondly by helping think through and contribute to the projects out there. VRM is still evolving and there are a number of initiatives in progress from open source to commercial solutions addressing different areas of the VRM space. One area that is still relatively unexplored is that of applications that can enable users to manipulate and get value from their own data once it is under their control. This could be tools that help visualise data, trend analysis, reporting, sharing of data etc – this could well be where a killer app emerges that helps drive adoption.
VRM is certainly a disruptive concept and highlights how much of our personal data is out of our control. With new online tools and services emerging all the time this problem will only increase. It is certainly a worthy effort that deserves support and has wide ranging implications for how data may be managed in the future.