NEW YORK: Personal data is vital to the future of many businesses and accordingly marketers ought to be taking steps to address the issues involved rather than fighting a rearguard action against the concerns of consumers and governments. 

So says consulting firm Accenture, which surveyed nearly 600 global business professionals across seven countries – Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, the US and UK – and eight industry groups for its report Guarding and Growing Personal Data Value, as well as carrying out interviews with academic experts and other secondary research.

Fully 90% of survey respondents said digital stewardship is the most important principle in terms of improving business reputation and being responsible managers of personal data. Three quarters also said their businesses were taking action on this principle.

The report highlighted the well-known trends affecting the outlook of businesses using personal data and added some surprising new findings.

So, for example, customers are increasingly reluctant to do business with companies they don't trust with their data and are acting on these concerns – a development that could compromise the amount and quality of personal data that businesses can use.

A similar outcome is possible from new technologies and startups helping people go "off grid".

Governments, meanwhile, are stepping up the regulatory response to data privacy concerns, while consumer watchdogs are increasing the scrutiny of business data practices.

And consumers themselves are more aware of the value of their data. Nearly 60% of survey respondents from products and manufacturing companies reported their customers were actively monetising their own data – for instance, by selling it to data intermediaries.

"Rather than fight these trends, businesses should pursue proactive strategies that will help them adapt to the changes ahead," said Matthew Robinson, managing director, Accenture Institute for High Performance.

Those strategies include investing in the right talent and technologies and "defining an operational model centred on risk management goals to better predict, detect, respond and recover from security threats".

Robinson also advised taking action on five principles identified by the report that can promote greater digital trust.

Effective digital stewardship can differentiate a business; digital transparency shows customers how data is being used and stored; digital empowerment offers customers greater control over their data; digital equity sees companies provide monetary or service-in-kind benefits to customers in return for their data; and digital inclusion sees personal data used to multiply positive societal outcomes.

Data sourced from Accenture; additional content by Warc staff