This article is written by Sharmila Ranade, pursuing a Diploma in Cyber Law, Fintech Regulations, and Technology Contracts from Lawsikho.com.
With the advent of the digital revolution, our interaction with technology and digital platforms has increased considerably. While the internet is constant, the modes through which the internet may be accessed are different. The businesses (brands) are providing services through various online platforms considering the strata of the consumers. Consumers are referred to as users in the online platform parlance. Users access the online business platforms through the desktop, laptops, tablet, i-pads, mobile applications, etc. At times users visit a brand through the desktop, then, later on, surf the same brand through the mobile web or subsequently through a mobile app that the brand has developed. While the users are busy looking at the products offered by a brand, brands are busy gathering user data for various reasons including, generating feedback, ensuring that consumers’ right of being heard is complied with, or giving more personal experience while accessing the brand online. The brand needs to know its consumers to provide a customised experience depending upon their choices and preferences. How will this be attained if the user is accessing the brand through various means? Will, the user be considered as three different consumers if he is accessing the Brand through the laptop, tablet, or i-pad? Is there any algorithm by which the brand can treat the user as one single consumer while accessing the Brand through various channels? These are some questions that lead to our topic of discussion, viz., Unified User Profile. I shall discuss the details of Unified User Profile, its need, the various entities involved in creating Unified User Profile, how it is created, its advantages and disadvantages to the users as well as the business.
Need for unified user profiles
Users interact with the brands across various channels, apps, and devices at different points in time, and therefore, receiving the same welcome message several times can turn out to be annoying for any user. This happens because the consumer data is fragmented and the brands are left to think that it has been approached by three different consumers. Consumers expect to be treated as one individual across all the channels, apps, devices. This can be achieved if all the consumer data is roped into one string to identify the person behind the fragments. Thus, user data across all channels, apps, and devices can be unified to create a user profile. For example, if you started watching a movie on an OTT platform on your mobile on your way home from the office and stopped halfway after reaching home. If you wish to continue watching the movie would you not like to watch the rest of the movie on the big screen of your smart TV and that too from the same point where you left it mid-way? This will be possible if the OTT platform recognises me as one user on the Smart TV, Mobile app and on the laptop, desktop, etc., failing which my Smart TV and other devices will not know who has watched half of the movie and if only the other half is remaining to be watched. Would it not be irritating to do the fast forward and go to the exact point where you stopped? This justifies the need to have a unified user profile across various channels and devices.
As regards the business, they do not befit with the fragmented pieces of information. They are able to use the information if it is consolidated and unified to generate more business. This will help the analytical teams use algorithms to take more accurate measurements, markets will be able to target more valuable potential consumers while the product teams will be able to develop more consumer-oriented useful services. Hence, having a unified user profile is not only in the commercial interest of the business but also in the interest of the users considering the convenience.
What is a unified user profile?
After understanding the need of unifying the data of the consumers, let’s understand what is a unified user profile? Unified user profiling is a process of users having similar behaviour on the website of a brand are grouped together to obtain categories of users so that product can be marketed to them as per their preferences. User profiling can be defined as the process of identifying the data about a user interest domain. This information can be used by the system to understand more about the user and this knowledge can be further used for enhancing the retrieval for providing satisfaction to the user.
Steps involved in creating unified user profiling
The main aspect of creating a User profile is to efficiently know the user and recommend items of interest to him. This is achieved by the following steps:
a) Extracting the data about the user
Users have various modes available to get connected to the brands. It could be through their website or the mobile apps or through the mobile network. There is an option to log in through the Google account and also through Facebook account. For instance, if Rahul created a login through the website of a brand but while surfing through his mobile, he is given an option to log in through Facebook. If Rahul chooses to log in through Facebook then automatically the system will capture the details of Rahul’s Facebook account. When some other day Rahul downloads the mobile app of the same brand, he is required to give permission to access the microphone, pictures, videos, messages, etc. And this will give additional information about Rahul to the brand. Thus, the brand has captured Rahul’s information from various modes and devices. This is the first step in creating a unified user profile.
b) Integration of the data gathered
Data integration is referred to as the requirement to combine data from multiple separate business systems into a single unified view. The information gathered by the brand through various modes and devised will be processed to find the common thread. Data integration will help to unite the different pieces of information and provide a unified view of them which is stored in the data repository for further use. Data integration architects and software developers develop program and data integration platforms that facilitate automatic data integration for connecting and routing the data from different sources. Taking the above example further, the brand has now information about Rahul captured from various sources. Now this information will be integrated to understand all this information belongs to one person that is Rahul.
c) Identifying the interest of the user
Once the data is compiled in one place it is necessary to segregate the data based on the common interest of users. The data is filtered to create user groups on the basis of the behaviour of the users. The data can be filtered using various techniques:
Keywords or content-based filter
This is also known as the cognitive filter. The content of each item is represented as a combination of descriptors or terms, generally, the words that might be associated with an item. The user profile is also represented with the same term and built up by analysing the content of items that have been seen by the user. One can refer to these terms as keywords. The content of each item is represented as a set of descriptors or terms, typically the words that might be associated with an item. The user profile is represented with the same terms and built up by analysing the content of items that have been visited by the user.
This filter uses the technique to group the users having similar interests. Users who have the same preferences are clubbed together in one group so that the items of their choice can be recommended to them in one go. For eg. Shyam, Sunita, Neeraj, and Raj have looked for vintage cars on the website at different points in time through different devices, the system will collaborate them on the basis of their preference and common interest and put all of them in one user group interested in vintage cars so that recommender system will prompt such advertisements to these users. The recommender system is the direct beneficiary of the user profiling and it has become important for search personalisation, Complaints Management System, and many other systems.
Visualising the knowledge
Once all the information is gathered, sorted, filtered, and grouped, it is necessary to have a bird’s eye view of the available data of a user. The data can be virtualized in one screen under various headings. Thus, personalisation of data of the user enables accessing the user’s relevant information to classify and rank the items as per the interest and preference of the individual user. Now the data is ready for being used for the business as per their requirement to give personalised experience to the users. Let us have a look at the advantages and dangers associated with creating unified user profiles.
Advantages of unified user profile
Users are happy to receive personalised attention from the business, thanks to the creation of the user profiles. It has the following benefits to the users at the cost of the information sharing which are worthwhile noting:
- With a unified user profile, the users get a personalised experience based on their interests.
- The communication between the app and user becomes much easier as the app has gathered all information regarding the preference of the user.
- It helps in recovering the user settings in case of any faulty conditions.
- The user is not bothered with items that are not of his interest.
- Users have a greater opportunity to give feedback and comments to enable getting a refined product and services that are required by the user.
- User profiling enables user context creation in terms of what device the user has downloaded the app in.
- The recommender system is most benefited by the user profiles. It can recommend products based on the preferences and interests of the user. It can suggest items that have been purchased by other users having similar interests and are part of the same user group.
Benefits for businesses
A user’s profile is the raw material for the business to develop their clientele and increase their business at the cost of the data privacy of the users. While giving the user the benefit of personalisation, the following advantages work well in the interest of the business:
- It is necessary to keep your consumers happy and satisfied and to be in touch with them. If they are happy with you, the chances of competition will reduce by understanding their profile and matching to their likes.
- It is necessary to maintain your users as long-term relationships will translate into business and increased profits. It is difficult to scout for a new consumer, therefore, a better step is to take care of the existing ones.
- Profiling will enable businesses to get more consumers as the user groups will give them data about similar interests. The businesses can target a particular segment of users as they are grouped as per their preferences.
- Businesses can give a more personalised experience to the users and convert them into patrons by personalising the brand marketing. This will help in creating trust.
- It supports migration of data which helps restore the admin and settings in case of any breakdown in the system. Recovery is easier and faster.
- It helps these key performance indicators by enhancing the performance of the application.
Dangers for users
Any technological advancement has two sides, the good and the bad have always been co-existent. It is pertinent to note the danger involved in creating user profiles some of which are enumerated hereunder:
- Users are the most vulnerable as they rarely bother to read the terms and conditions before clicking the “I agree” checkbox.
- The privacy of the user is at stake; all information is gathered by the business from various sources and across the devised and channels.
- Data breaches may damage the reputation of the users.
- Hacking is another danger for the user data being modified, stolen, damaged, destroyed.
- User information like email id may be used to commit cyber-crimes like phishing, etc.
Challenges for business
It is not difficult to set up a business and run it successfully. Each business has its own set of challenges. With the advent of technology and the digital revolution, the manner of doing business has also changed and has a heavy reliance on technology. Creating user profiles may have the following common challenges before the business to name a few:
- Businesses have to make heavy investments in software, hardware application, and human resources to get profiling done. The technology gets obsolete faster and the same needs to be upgraded on a regular basis adding to the expenses.
- User profiles have some limitations such as it faces many authentication problems. On the other hand, challenge towards having control over the user interfaces and monitoring the data.
- Data storage when shifted from local storage to internet storage requires proper addressing of the storage overheads. Else the data would mismatch.
- Personalisation makes the process more complex as it has to cater to the level of individual users. Most administrators try to replicate the user experience, which may not be correct.
- In many cases the tools required in managing the systems requires the agent to work. The intriguing agent creates challenges for the tools to manage the profiles.
Efficacy of implementation of user profiles
User profiling has been popular with the netizens and more so, the young population who are comfortable using the internet. However, senior citizens and the middle-aged are not net-savvy. Hence, they struggle to cope up with technological advancement. Traditional information technology development adopts a systematic approach without necessarily using a specific user model that personalizes the system to the aging user groups. The adoption of user profile and persona has not received much attention in health care informatics research and, in particular, research involving Customer Health Technology. Creating User profiles, by investing heavily in technology and human resources will be possible or the big, small, and medium businesses may find it difficult to spend that kind of amount required to have the infrastructure in place. Hence, they may prefer to go the traditional way.
The present digital technology is based on the profiling system that contains unique data. In such a case, unified user data is used in aiming to promote better connectivity among the profiles. User profiles offer one single centralised view of user data across all channels, apps, and devices to put the entire user to interact with the brands in one frame. They are extremely valuable for building products and marketing them to the users, but practically it is difficult to create. Everyone likes to receive the personal attention and feel special. The experience the businesses offer after creating user profiles is amazing and more satisfying in terms of the interest and preferences of the user. It not only takes care of the likes of a user but also considers what the user does not like. User profiling has many advantages to the users and the business and has its own set of dangers and challenges too. Going forward the users will have to be careful while giving access to its information if privacy is a concern. Presently, we do not have any law for personal data protection hence, data breaches may not have any specific remedy. Users will have to weigh the benefits as compared to the dangers and choose wisely as to what information is shared on which platform. Being vigilant, reading the terms and conditions, and sharing the data on a need-to-know basis will be in the interest of the users when you are constantly being watched digitally and trivial actions are being noted and recorded for the benefit of the business.
- https://blog.hurree.co/blog/the-benefits-of-user-profiling-worth-shouting by Hannah Strain
Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skills.