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The opportunities for data-driven marketing are as boundless as the Internet itself.

When assessing data-management technologies, marketers want tools that handle an increasing variety of data, cut through its complexity, and design products and services that will maximize a company’s profit.

That was the consensus of a group of experts Thursday that provided insight into the data evolution for “Startups, Entrepreneurship, and New Business Models in the Data Economy”.  This panel discussion was part of a day-long event called Data Innovation Day 2015.

“It’s not a surprise to anybody in marketing that data is important,” said Rachel Nyswander Thomas, executive director of the Data-Driven Marketing Institute (DDMI) and vice president of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). “We are living a data-driven way of life.”

Yet, as innovations in technology drive lower costs, it’s not only being done for advertisers and marketers. Consumers are jumping on board – giving rise to the new era of data-driven consumerism, Thomas said. The ubiquity of data could soon erase the “data-driven” distinction between marketers and consumers.

“The rise of consumers having access to data (not quite as much as markets do, but pretty close) is interesting,” said Thomas. “Consumers have the ability to meet marketers where they are … to leverage data themselves, and even analytics and predictive modeling, to understand what the best offer is for them to take.”

Similarly, large companies to mom-and-pop businesses are discovering how unprecedented access to thousands of databases can work for them.

Joel Gurin, president and founder of the Center for Open Data Enterprise, is considered a leading international expert on open data –freely accessible public data that can drive entrepreneurship, business growth and scientific innovation. He said there are roughly 500 to 600 U.S.-based companies using open government data, for instance, to generate new business and develop new products and services.

President Barack Obama signed an open data initiative in 2013 saying that providing government data to entrepreneurs enables them to create new businesses and strengthen the economy. As a result, start-ups and established firms harvest government data for consumer and business applications.

“People are really starting to understand the potential of (open data), particularly open government data on health, financial services, energy, the environment or any number of sectors,” Gurin said.

Open data is a treasure trove for savvy businesses. With the federal government as the single largest source of open data in the U.S., however, converting terabytes of free government data into new revenue streams can turn out to be a massive train wreck for many.

Panelists found often that the quality of reporting reflects data that is formatted poorly, outdated, an even inaccurate.  Thomas emphasized the urgent need for responsible reporting. It’s important for open data it to be transparent, accessible, and reusable in ways that give it the power to transform business, government, and society.

Thomas cited troubling issues found in the “Death Master File” provided by U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service as an example for the need of focusing on the value of data and strongly reinforcing the importance of self-regulation.

“The data that the NTIS provides, such as social security data, doesn’t always reflect, for instance, who’s passed away,” she said. “Strangely, marketers want to know who not to contact and who to leave alone. Not only to save money, but as to not offend those who are hurting.”

What’s next? Empowering consumers to manage their data and maintain their right to privacy by knowing how their data is being collected and being used.

“This is an incredibly high priority for DMA and it members right now…,” Thomas said. “Technology moves too fast to have laws necessarily to regulate these areas. We have in the self-regulatory world a set of principles that we try to make sure apply no matter the technology.”

Explore more data-driven issues and gain new, actionable insights and skills at the Email Evolution Conference 2015, February 2-4, the Marketing Analytics Conference, (MAC), March 9, and Mobile Marketing Day, March 12.