24 thoughts on “Data? What is it good for? Absolutely … something”

  1. personal impersonal data, a new tool in the evolution of humanity and how to do business — or interact — with one another. the use usually underscores the true philosophy of the person or business, as well as reveal the quality of their efforts to maximize a resource.

  2. It’s all about point/dots bindings to create data. If you have inflexible systems, no amount of points/dots will help the company.
    The funny thing, while the AI folks are still trying to figure out if machines can learn true/truth. Some other folks are trying to figure out if machines can pass the mirror test, visual self-aware. While most companies just collect points for the sake of someday have big data.

    1. Ronald

      I think the funny thing is all these rules are meant to make us think and do things in less human a manner. If we didn’t so that we probably will think in terms of asking the right questions.

      1. People in big companies don’t know the rules anymore, they are programmed into a piece of SW 10 years old and impossible to bend.
        Rules are what binds the points into data as more the merrier, I think Jeff Jonas has an example of 10k rules by a fraud detection system.
        Anyway modern systems don’t have rules with fixed true/false or probability assigned, hence they can adapt to the needs of people in different situations. They don’t need to be recompiled to get rule number 10001 in, which contradicts rule 666. Or you fall outside the probability being a customer who wants to change an “unchangeable” ticket. Or it needs 1b records to learn that a customer who has called in to visit a foreign country and is back home on time didn’t loose his phone.
        How many calls has SIRI processed by now, how much better did it get?

  3. Business succeeds on social intelligence and not incessant talk about big data. If a company has to hire Data Scientists it shows they have no clue as to what their business is doing or where it is selling. A business that is not a part of its communities will fall apart and disappear. Big data is not a solution for clueless management.

  4. Evgeny Morozov touched on these same themes writing about music discovery apps like Pandora. As Om points out, much of the hyperventilating over ‘big data’ ignores the need and value of the human touch. Collecting tremendous amounts of information to capture a God’s-eye-view of trends and affinities is exciting, but as with the example of the Varda show store, simple customer service goes a long way.

    Om, besides Uber do you have companies in mind that combine the promise of ‘big data’ with thoughtful, consumer facing services/practices? Opower comes to mind, as does Foursquare’s new direction.

  5. Om,

    First off, a cracking article. Organisations should be able to use linked data as a way of improving your life – there is no doubt about that. However, as you consider the data of larger organisations you also get an increase in bureaucracy with regards to permissions which makes these types of data-driven interactions more difficult.

    There is no reason why a small, family run shoe store wouldn’t be able to give you a loyalty discount. When you start getting into big data, though, things are not so simple. You’d need to establish consent for your data to be shared at each touchpoint, and it’s also essential to establish this consent for, say, your phone company to take your location data and make judgement calls with regards to what is also probably a stringent security policy. This is bigger than corporates themselves and starts falling under the remit of government legislation. I don’t know where the US stands on things such as this, but certainly in the EU they are considering overhauling (or ‘updating’) our data laws which will make it harder for data bureaus like my own much harder to operate.

    It’s a lovely idea and in some cases, where the will to change is present and it is possible to tick all the bureaucratic boxes, there is some wonderful stuff going on out there; Amazon with their Kindle support is a prime example. However, if we are going to see more meaningful uses of big data I think there needs to be a shift in the perceptions of data and data use to help make these things possible.

    1. @Aris

      What a great comment. Clearly something for me to ponder upon and I am going to be thinking about it for a while.

      That said, I think the case I am making for is common sense logic and being opportunistic and caring. I think the legal aspects are about a different level of complexity and as a result I have often wondered if we are scared of the “data” because we look at it from a whole different angle and not from the angle of using sense.


      1. Om,

        Fear is definitely a big part of it. Tech savvy individuals like ourselves can see the benefit of offering up our data as this makes for a more convenient customer experience. However, in the grand scheme of things I think we are in the minority.

        There is a major perception of linked data being a bad thing, and it absolutely is when that data falls into the wrong hands. People are either worried of ‘Big Brother’ tracking their every move, and we’ve all heard horror stories of prospective employers turning down candidates because of Facebook data which should be private, but hey.

        If we do want to see a move towards convenience-driven data use, I don’t think it’s enough just to challenge the corporates who hold our data. I think the task ahead of us, if we are willing to take it on, in much, much broader in scope.

  6. I had a very similar experience with Lufthansa on Christmas Eve of 2000, as I was escorting my very ill father back to the U.S. from Delhi to get a pacemaker.

    My father was in my business-class seat in a virtually empty cabin; I took his economy seat.

    The stewardess had seen me helping him, unsteady on his feet, and my checking on him every so often.

    She was very gracious, and invited me to sit next to him for the balance of the long flight to Frankfurt., which I did.

    A short while later she was back, very embarrassed, to tell me that her supervisor was insisting that I be asked to go back to economy, because – get this – in the worst stereotype of Germany, he told her, “Rules are rules”!!!

    What a customer service debacle, on Christmas Eve, with an empty cabin, an ailing elderly passenger, and the revocation of a very gracious, unsolicited offer by a representative of the airline, the stewardess, for me to sit next to my Dad to watch over him.

    I have never flown Lufthansa since.

    1. @Inder

      I don’t blame you and frankly this is precisely what is the problem with companies that don’t seem to understand that they live in a connected world and options are a lot easier to find than they used to be in the past.

  7. Om – great article. RE: Lufthansa, there is another possibilty – what if they actually did use data, and in some bit of twisted airline logic – proactively decided against you? This *is* the airline industry with inscrutable pricing policies, you know. I’m sure there’s no correlation with almost none of them ever operating at a profit. 🙂 -Tim

    1. @brown_te,

      Now that you bring it up, well, I am guessing that could actually be true… I guess they knew I was going to bitch anyway. #joke.

      Thanks for the comment.

  8. Perhaps the bigger big data equation is imputing the human experience in business related circumstances.
    Let’s review Inder’s Lufthansa experience. During the same trip, people and circumstances two separate but related employees react 180 degrees from one another. The first relationship was empathetic and allowed the rules to be bent, presumably in the belief that no one would object.
    The second participant (supervisor) revoked the decision on the “rules are rules” argument. I assume the one to many relationship experience was invoked. The supervisor must have internalized that other paying customers could complain if they observed preferential treatment at a lesser cost.
    Not long ago Wal-Mart released several employees that intervened and detained a shoplifter who happened to be armed.
    The alleged perpetrator was subdued and arrested.
    Later, Wal-Mart acted to release the employees because of a published employee handbook rule that stated employees should not take direct action to detain after observing criminal behavior. I posit that most outsiders reviewing the accounts of the situation would disagree with the application of the rule.
    I seem to be reinforcing what has already been suggested. No amount of data can produce interpreted results of fair, reasonable or just in human behavior. Just ask our politicians.

  9. There will be significant benefit from data for businesses who are able to mash together disparate data sets to get unique insights or provide personalized services to consumers. We are already seeing companies who are matching payments data back to their CRM and linking these customers back to their social media profiles.

    Om: Imagine if once you had swiped your card at the shoe retailer that they had matched this back to your social profiles, seen that you had tweeted about your wife’s birthday and then asked if you would like to have a look at a gift for her (or maybe even throwing her social profile up on their POS to give you some suggestions of what she might like).

  10. Om – couldn’t agree more – that its not about the data but about the usage.

    Given this you may be interested in the just published World Economic Forum/BCG report on personal data that calls for a new approach to personal data in a big data world. Key to this new approach is to shift from governing the data itself to governing the usage of the data and engaging the individual in how data about them is used!

    The press release can be found here: Current Approach to Governing Personal Data Needs Updating for a Big Data World http://www.bcg.com/media/PressReleaseDetails.aspx?id=tcm:12-128893

    And you can download the full report from here https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/digital_economy_technology_unlocking_value_personal_data_collection_usage/ or wef.ch/rpdvalue

    Carl Kalapesi

  11. On the Verizon question: I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that it is related to privacy. When you get intrusive, location-based advertising, I would bet that there is a system that masks personal data, and just delivers ads without recording to whom it is sending them. Once you are talking about proactively combining location data with personal billing changes, that means the carrier is monitoring and recording your location at all times.

    My feeling is that intrusive advertising of this sort invades privacy, even if it does not record personal data. I also think that the carrier is right not to use location by default in the manner you discuss, but it should probably make it an opt-in choice that would appeal especially to frequent travelers.

  12. We just finished a discussion on understanding customer usage data in a B2B context. Big data is coming to B2B also, or just Data based sales, marketing, and most importantly customer success. We have to guide our users to great experiences and values. One step in this is mapping the customer journey. If you are interested for more on that, see this blog I wrote… http://kenrutsky.com/charting-the-customer-journey/


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