Big data: With great power comes great responsibility

Chaucer / Digital Viewpoints  / Big data: With great power comes great responsibility

Our world has transitioned from being surrounded by to being truly immersed in technology. That’s not to say that technology governs our lives, but rather acknowledging the significant role it plays; in the way we live (FitBit), communicate (Snapchat), travel (Tesla Autopilot) and even find love (Tinder). The result of these technological advancements is data, a lot of data.

To provide scale, OgilvyOne worldwide note that “Every 2 days we create as much information as we did from the beginning of time up to 2003”. The result being big data. Buzzwords come and go, phrases that soon fizzle out due to a lack of substance. Big data however, it’s increasingly evident, is here to stay; with some believing it’ll have an impact akin to the industrial revolution.

To recap, big data is unstructured information that is constantly being created and accumulated at unprecedented speed, across numerous data points in multiple formats – all on a gargantuan scale.

What does this mean for consumers?

Every day we are constantly producing data, often without realising. We’re letting Apple know where we go (other mobile operators are available), telling Twitter what we think and giving Google a window into our minds. Furthermore, our Fitbit’s know when we’re awake, Spotify knows what mood we’re in and Uber knows where we like to socialise. The realisation of just how much data we are creating is a little unnerving, especially given that it is all being captured. However, if harnessed properly such information can be turned into impressive outputs. Personalised offers will be increasingly accurate and shopping experiences will be completely transformed. Retailers will be able to truly place you at the focus.

Imagine doing your family’s weekly shop without any prior planning. Rather than battling with the task of writing a shopping list and devising a meal plan, simply enter your local supermarket and connect your phone to the shopping trolley. Once synced, meals specific to your diet, budget and planned activities are suggested instantaneously. Suddenly the value proposition has exceeded all expectations, and freed up consumer’s time. Imagine a world where shopping was made stress free.

What does this mean for businesses?

Big data is not only changing the way organisations are structured and operate, but also the wider competitive landscape in which they compete. To realise the proposed benefits organisations have a couple of challenges to overcome.

Making sense of the data. Big data is unstructured and home to many red herrings; given the volume there is a lot of ‘noise’. The value for organisations is derived from cutting through the mass to identify true signals. If companies are able to effectively mine and interpret their consumer’s data to conduct deeper analysis – you might have heard about the rise of data scientists – they will be close to gaining a clear understanding of their consumer’s behaviour. For the consumer this translates into hyper-personalised predictive offerings that cater for their exact needs and wants – sometimes before they are consciously aware of these needs. Clearly big data has potential to be a company’s strongest asset.

Managing security risks. As with any asset, it is only valuable if it is maintained and protected. For many parts of the world, 2016 will be remembered as an eventful year full of loss. Corporations were not immune, with several falling victim to cyber-attacks and data hacks, exposing surprising vulnerabilities. Without adequate security in place to protect customer records, big data becomes a burden rather than the advantage it promises to be. The reason this is so poignant is the ICO has started to flex its regulatory muscles, issuing a record £400,000 fine to TalkTalk in October 2016 for a severe data breach. Organisations hold a wealth of information – very specific to your person – it is paramount that this stays within their confines.
Alongside Data Protection, and certainly as important, is Data Privacy. Before walking the tightrope of how to use personal data correctly, the minefield of marketing consent needs to be navigated. The requirement making it ‘easy to opt-out’ was significant, the GDPR ruling, due to arrive in 2018, will be a game changer. Organisations will need to ensure their databases are immaculate and that they have obtained explicit customer permission to be compliant. Once this hurdle has been surpassed and the data has been interpreted, there’s one last challenge.

Remain human. Henry Ford wasn’t wrong when he claimed customer consultation would have led to requests for a ‘faster horse’. Nonetheless such assumptions can leave consumers isolated. In the era of artificial intelligence and machine learning we need to tread carefully to make sure that customers not only join, but are at the heart of the journey. There is the need for balance: customers expect their data to harvested however do not appreciate personal intrusion. Think helpful neighbour rather than ‘big brother’.

So when can we expect to see ‘the shop of the future’?

Big data will bring about transformational changes, however this takes time. If, as in the example above, your shopping trolley is going to provide a single customer view this will be reliant on multiple data sources combining seamlessly. Whilst there is no doubt that the data is being collected, it is not yet being shared amongst organisations to produce such personal insight. The implementation of the GDPR (Data Privacy regulations coming into force next year) is expected to be a key landmark and enabler for the development of digital. Once organisations are compliant with the legislation, a significant effort in itself, the path will be clear to take big data to the next stage; further digitising daily life.

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