For Cooperatives, Data Collection Doesn’t Compromise Information—it Creates Member Value


Last week, I had the distinct honor to be a small part of the National Information Solution Cooperative‘s annual Membership Information Conference. An industry leader in providing advanced, integrated IT solutions, NISC develops and supports technology solutions that enable its member-owners to excel in customer service, maximize diversification opportunities and compete effectively in the changing utility and telecommunications industries.

From my vantage point, I see NISC as a natural bridge between the legacy cooperative utility and telecom sectors to the emerging platform and IT cooperatives. While NISC celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, the conference made clear that they plan to continue to innovate on behalf of their members—from cyber security to using data to gain a competitive edge.

On my way to the conference in St. Louis, I struck up a conversation with someone who works for a corporation—not a cooperative—in the Health Systems Improvement field. Similar to NISC, this firm provides information solutions—in this case, for health care systems.

The person made the point that it was easy to sell her service because it is hard to argue with the proposition that firms should have more and better-analyzed information to help them get to better outcomes. I agreed with her, but with one caveat: it is not always a given that the businesses or people in the system being analyzed have the sophistication or power to act on the new information.

That is, while new data and analyses have value, in some organizations, that value may not be captured by the people who use the business—rather, it will be captured by outside investors or other powerful players in the system.

This potential exploitation of people’s information is yet one more reason people are losing trust in many of our institutions. Dwindling public trust in institutions since the financial crisis is well documented. Ten years after the bust of the housing bubble, the U.S. is undergoing a new phase in this trend: 2018 witnessed the deepest decline of the American public’s trust in U.S. government, media, nonprofits and businesses since Edelman started releasing its annual Trust Barometer. This level of distrust is apparent in the ways Americans are becoming increasingly skeptical about how companies handle their information.

Which brings me back the cooperative business model in the context of the information age. As a cooperative, NISC exists to serve its members. They now have the responsibility to help hundreds of utility and telecom cooperatives better collect, store and analyze data—not to mention keep it secure. Because NISC is a cooperative, it is not looking to monetize data for a third party; instead, it is looking to create member value.

At the 2018 Co-op IMPACT Conference, we’ll explore the broader intersection of co-ops and big data. During our plenary session, “Building Trust with Data: The Co-op Advantage in a Data-Driven World,” NISC and other innovative cooperatives will discuss how co-ops are navigating the big data landscape in a way that preserves data ownership, builds trust and ultimately empowers people.

Now is the moment to talk about why cooperative businesses—in which consumers are the owners and providers of data—offer the best path forward. Register for IMPACT 2018 and be part of this conversation!

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