Digital Innovators: Q&A with digi.me founder Julian Ranger

 
Julian Ranger
digi.me allows you to bring all your data together into your own secure library. (Source: digi.me)

digi.me enables the Internet of Me by putting individuals at the centre of their digital life, owning and controlling their own data.

Last year digi.me was identified as one of 50 of the freshest and most inspiring digital companies using technology and innovation to shake up their sectors in our Digital Innovators Power List. Following a public vote and after careful consideration by supporting partners and judges, it was named as one of the top 10 Digital Innovators. Later this year two of these companies will be identified as a "life changer" or a "market transformer".

Executive chairman and founder Julian Ranger tells us his long-term vision for the company and gives us insight into why it's one of the UK's leading digital innovators.

Talk me through the business. What sparked the idea? How do you compete with other players/what sets you apart?

A few years ago, I was in a board meeting where I heard about someone who had just lost three years’ worth of Facebook interactions after a glitch wiped his account. We thought it was a huge shame that all of those posts, photos and comments had just vanished, just because there was no back-up app available. So we decided there and then to create one.

SocialSafe (digi.me’s original name) allowed users to save and search information and pictures they had posted to their various social media accounts. We started with Facebook but then quickly got demand for other networks, such as Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. There was clearly massive demand for a service where people could get their data back together in one place and then use it however they wanted.

So we started moving development towards the direction digi.me is focused on now – which is gathering wide-ranging whole life data, including health and finances, first and foremost for the benefit of the user but also looking for ways to help them do more with it. This is primarily by sharing it with businesses, on their terms, for services or personalised rewards.

Crucially, all this data is all stored locally on the user’s own infrastructure, and we the company never see, touch or hold it.

Digi.me is so successful because it is the only company that truly returns data to the individual - our competition has largely focused on SaaS solutions, where data is held by a third party, with associated limited user control.

How has your company grown in the past few years? What are the most crucial things you have done to grow it?

Our app has moved from one focused on social media content to collating vast streams of data. We have added secure access to bank accounts from around the world and are also returning full electronic health records to individuals (initially in Iceland and the US, and hopefully the UK soon), as well as adding wellness data and shortly music data with more coming. Digi.me is the technology underpinning a country-wide pilot in Iceland making digital health records available to its citizens in a world first. This whole-country living lab, which is open to every Icelander, demonstrates the significant changes we enable.

Our Consent Access platform, which allows users to share slices of the data they have in their own secure libraries with companies in return for value, whether service, convenience or reward, has also been released. This consent, which can be revoked at any time, is fully compliant with the upcoming GDPR law which will return personal data control to individuals. Businesses who are granted access to this 100 per cent accurate, rich and deep personal data are able to develop truly personalised and innovative services for their users, such as better data-driven experiences, rewards and other benefits like rich personal analytics.

In health, for example, digi.me enables true patient centricity because you have your data at all times and can share that health data wherever you are, ensuring you have the right treatment and allowing you to be prescribed apps, not just medicines, as treatment or for monitoring. This patient-centric approach also enables better research and is nothing less than a complete revolution in how we as individuals interact with the health environment. Moreover, it is one that benefits all actors in the health ecosystem whilst retaining privacy and security.

Last but very definitely not least, we combined forces with a US company through a merger, bringing together the leading European and US companies in the emerging personal data ecosystem to provide a single integrated solution for consumers and businesses.

Where do you hope to be in a year/two years? What is your long-term vision for the business?

We believe digi.me will be the main enabler of the Internet of Me, not only putting individuals at the centre of their online life, but also in control of it. We also believe digi.me will be adopted worldwide with thousands of applications built upon our enablement platform, across Governments, health authorities, world-leading banks, insurers and start-ups across all sectors. The funding and development of these third party apps has already begun, some as a result of our international Data Hack event in Iceland last year.

How do you see the state of the market in which your business operates? What are the biggest challenges you will face in the coming years and how do you hope to overcome them?

I believe the GDPR, which appears to some to be a big challenge, is actually a massive innovation opportunity. It will allow the sharing of more personal data, not less, and put individuals back in control of what is shared about them and with whom. Consumers will be the key custodians of their data, not the businesses which track them and share it without their knowledge.

The challenge is to show that personal ownership of data overcomes today’s privacy and security problems, and actually enables everyone to do more with data, not less. It is no longer the case of users having to choose between sharing or privacy - through personal ownership of data, the ability to share data combined with full privacy creates a true win for individuals, businesses, Governments and society as a whole.

How important is innovation to your business? How do you engender a culture of forward thinking and creativity with your staff?

Innovation is the core of digi.me – we have various patents underway and an ongoing process to bring our concepts to fruition.

Our developers have literally been given a brief to create something revolutionary, the scope of which has never seen before, and have delivered new platforms, processes and data storage solutions that embody past innovations (for example from the military heritage of the founders) to the very latest innovations in architecture and processes. Digi.me is innovating at the “edge”, something that has not been achieved before – without innovative solutions it could literally not exist.

What is it about your company that makes it one of the UK’s leading digital innovators?

Digi.me's vision is to enable the Internet of Me - the user at the centre of their digital life, owning and controlling their own data.

Digi.me solves the issue around personal data being shared without consent, whilst also enabling businesses to get access to the richer, deeper data which is crucial for innovation.

We are the only company that truly returns data to the individual – we don’t see, touch or hold personal data ever. That simple phrase means we have to do everything new – it has literally never been done before. When you are implementing completely new processes, you have to have a continuous innovation culture. It helps that the founders and senior staff have been involved in innovation for many decades, and understand that innovation doesn't mean complexity – it can and should mean striving for simplicity.

Look out for the next Q&A with Billmonitor, another top 10 Digital Innovator, on 6 February 2018.

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