I went to the VRM London meeting yesterday (kindly hosted by Sun). I have to admit I was somewhat undecided before I turned up, but there are clearly a lot of passionate and imaginative people driving it, and within an hour I already had a few pages of implementation ideas and compelling applications that could be based on it.
VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management (the counter-point to CRM – Customer Relationship Management). The short version is that by asserting a single point of control for your data as a consumer, you can add value and privacy for both yourself and companies you deal with.
The benefits to the user include:
- The ability to ensure your data is accessed in the way you want. You can make sure that data is kept up to date for people or companies you want to have a relationship with, and that access (at least to fresh data) is blocked for those you don’t want to deal with.
- The ability to bring companies to you, on your terms, rather than having to go to them. Ultimately I think widespread adoption could enhance competition and stimulate the economy as a whole.
The benefits to companies include:
- Being able to keep data up-to-date. In some industries this is a serious problem.
- Access to a greater depth of data than users would allow if they didn’t have granular control of it
- The ability to cut out brokers and middle-men (excluding the VRM host, although the business model of individual VRM providers is up to them)
Here are a few use cases:
Bob loves music. He’s heard of a VRM host, and signs up. He inputs or uploads details of his music collection. He enables access to his private music collection data for a few music services and sends them a message asking for recommendations. The music services then respond, recommending new music to him and offering him their best price.
Bob is looking for some home insurance. He inputs data about all the belongings in his house that he wants covered, his postcode (zip code if you’re merkin), and then sends a message through the VRM host to insurance companies giving them one-off access and asking them for a quote. The insurance companies respond. He then selects the quote he wants, and provides them with his identity and whatever other personal data is required to establish a relationship. The chosen insurance company can then be given persistent access to Bob’s private house contents data so that he can quickly re-insure when he buys something to avoid being underinsured.
The insurance company wins because they can cut out the brokers. Bob wins because he gets cheaper insurance and can reduce the hassle of re-insuring. He doesn’t want to be underinsured if something goes wrong.
The exact same data could be applied to another use case. If Bob gives a shopfront like Ebay access to his private house contents data, they could anonymously list his posessions on their site under a “make me an offer” feature. If some collector out there really wants the chest of drawers Bob inherited then they can make him an offer without needing to know who Bob is, or what else is in his house.
You can see the pattern here. If Bob’s friend list is stored on the VRM host he can enable complete or partial access to any social network he wants to join, saving him from having to recreate those connections afresh.
Bob is interested in music and wouldn’t mind being sent invites to gigs, but he doesn’t want to be inundated with rubbish. He tells his VRM host that he’s interested in receiving direct marketing on that subject, and will charge marketeers 50p per message he reads to encourage them to send him only relevant messages. In return he grants them access to his music data so they can figure out what to send him. Whenever he reads an email, they pay him 50p. They win because he buys gig tickets, and he wins because he gets only the marketing material he might be interested in.