Getting personal

Qualcomm’s acquisition of Xiam this week struck a nerve. I’d recently been involved in a roundtable attended by a handful of industry players, where the discussion focused on the need to find a way to create, manage and deliver services that can keep pace with the fleeting desires of today’s consumer.

In short, everyone wants services that are easy and quick to connect to. As David King, CTO of IT services specialist LogicaCMG pointed out, operators that make it easy to churn between services will be more successful. A controversial idea for a telco certainly, but clever as well as obvious when you think about it.

However, it’s a concept that easier to talk about than it is to put into practice. The solution will involve collaboration on an industry wide scale.

Operators need to win more trust from the users, so customers feel confident handing over their non-operator subscriptions to the telco itself. This could see users sign up for a third party music service, for example, via their operator, and have the subscription charge for that service tacked onto their mobile phone bill.

This part might actually be easily achievable. The breathtaking growth of social networking and widgets adoption on the desktop has proven that users are happy to plug their personal details and passwords into new applications in a cavalier fashion. Doing all this via a single interface would just make life easier.

But then you need to get the handset vendors to come up with a way for users to easily customise their environments without finding the platform too intrusive. And application developers need to be able to get their apps in front of the users, whatever device they might be on.

Part of the problem is that there is no channel for viral recommendations to spread on the mobile platform at present. There is no way for users to discover content easily. What is needed is an interface for the mobile environment that works for operators in the way that UK broadcaster Sky makes more from having an attractive Electronic Program Guide (EPG) than from content itself.

For developers, this is what makes Apple’s App Store for the iPhone an attractive proposition. It’s the only channel to get an application out, but it guarantees accessibility to that app for every iPhone user out there. The billing system might be two step, you still pay the carrier for mobile usage and Apple for content, but it’s getting there.

Which is why I read about Qualcomm’s acquisition of Ireland-based Xiam with interest. Xiam has a platform called My Personal Offers System (MPOS), which provides targeting and personalisation features to accelerate the discovery of content and individualise the user experience.

But of course, systems like this raise countless privacy concerns. It’s all about finding the balance between the user seeking a recommendation and the operator pushing a recommendation.

As Ovum analyst, Martin Garner, points out: “The mobile phone operators are in a very privileged position with the customer information they hold in that they know what people do, where they do it, how they pay for it and – most importantly – who they are. This gives them better customer data than anyone except the credit card providers and means that they can work towards the holy grail of marketing which is to deliver the right stimulus to the right person at the right time.”

Xiam has an existing and impressive customer list including Vodafone, Orange, O2, Hutchison and Globe Telecom.

But will such platforms be able to weather the privacy concerns? Ad platform Phorm has come under fire this week, after striking deals with UK service providers, Virgin Media, BT and Talk Talk. The system, which monitors web activity and analyses user habits to better target ads, purports to anonymise the data it collects. But a backlash from industry experts and consumers has forced the service providers rolling out Phorm to make the system opt out rather than mandatory.


  1. Avatar Tim M 08/04/2008 @ 6:37 am

    I wonder what they mean by “Phorm to make the system opt out rather than mandatory” does this mean they add a tick box to every page that you browse and if you ever “forget” to opt out then you are opted in (forever?)

    The post office is forbidden to read my mail, why on earth would anyone want to have their web activity (which of course includes Web-email) tracked in this way?

    I will change my ISP if they join this “service”.

  2. Avatar James Middleton 08/04/2008 @ 9:38 am

    My understanding is that the ISP has to alert its users that it is rolling out Phorm, so then I guess they can respond and ask to be excluded. Otherwise they would be included and have their traffic monitored, and anonymised, apparently.

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