The ethics of big data is an industry concern: Dr Barry Devlin

Divina Paredes

big data

"The business needs were very simple in a way," says Dr Barry Devlin, when he started working in the data and information business in the mid-1980s. "How do we get a view of what is going on in my business? How do we get a consistent view of the market, the results that I have in various different parts of the business?

"...If we can only understand past performance and within our business or around our business and customers, we will be able to do better business."

This is still a good message for organisations deploying business intelligence, says Devlin, now a business intelligence and big data industry analyst and founder of 9sight Consulting.

He had in fact published the first data warehouse architecture in 1988, when most IT departments were building standalone reporting systems.

"What has happened in the last few years is essentially that the amount of data and information we are able to collect has expanded dramatically."

There is also a massive change on how the data is being used, he adds.

The Internet of Things is providing the impetus for change, with data coming from connected devices such as Apple Watches and Fitbits. There are also monitors in cars to determine whether one is driving too hard or too fast, or cutting corners.

As one of my colleagues would say, 'big data should not always be about trying to sell more shoes'.

"All of this information is useful for business," he says. "It certainly gives us a way to reinvent the insurance, health and the automobile industries."

"The fact that you walk into a store with a registered smartphone that allows you to get specific offers" is one of the ways the retail sector is being impacted.

He says a shoe store in Guatemala takes a step further. It tracks those who signed up for its app when they turn up in a rival store in the same shopping centre.

"It will give you 99 per cent discount if you come to their store but you have to get there very quickly as the discount drops by one per cent per second.

"You have these young guys dashing around the shopping centre trying to get from A to B. It is a crazy idea, and it will work for a while."

But as he points out, it is the information around where you are that is driving all of this business.

"From a business point of view, this is fascinating because it changes the way you run the business.

"The technology gives you the ability to do these things. It becomes so powerful, providing you with the data and information but also giving you the possibility to analyse it in real-time or near real-time.

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