Julian Ranger is the Executive Chairman and founder of digi.me, which enables the Internet of Me by putting individuals at the centre of their digital life, owning and controlling their own data.
Initially an aeronautical engineer, Julian specialised in interoperability and the military internet, founding STASYS in 1987 and growing it to a staff of 230, with subsidiaries in the USA, Germany, Malaysia and Australia before selling to Lockheed Martin in 2005.
An angel investor in more than 20 start-up businesses, including Hailo, DataSift and Astrobotic, he is also a Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut.
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 at 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 how 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 to collating vast streams of data from across lives. 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. We have a whole-country living lab in Iceland, demonstrating 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 GDPR law. which returns 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, can share that health data wherever you are, ensuring you have the right treatment and allow you to be prescribed apps, not just medicines. This patient-centric approach also enables better research, and much more, 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 US company Personal 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 foremost enabler of the Internet of Me, putting individuals at the centre of their online life and in control over it, and will have worldwide adoption with thousands of applications built upon our enablement platform, across Governments, health authorities, world-leading banks, insurers and start-ups of all sorts across all sectors.
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 GDPR, which appeared to some to be a big challenge, is actually a massive innovation opportunity. It allows the sharing of more personal data, not less, and put individuals back in control of what is shared about them and with whom. Consumers are the key custodians of their data, not businesses which track them and share it behind their back.
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. This is not a zero sum game of sharing or privacy, but through personal ownership of data a true win for individuals, businesses, Governments and society as a whole where we have sharing combined with privacy.
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 crucial for innovation.
We are 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, the simplicity the other side of complexity as Oliver Wendell Holmes famously quoted.