Big Data requires a specific culture and data ethics

big-dataWhile many people still see Big Data as a technology challenge – that actually exists -, one of the major challenges is related to ethics and corporate culture. By the end of june I attended the Information Builders Summit, which was a good opportunity to check the challenges and state of the art in Big Data. To my great satisfaction, Wolfgang Martin, who gave the opening keynote, did not focus on technology but on two major concernsĀ  : value and key success factors / responsibility. This post will be about this last point.

The value of information depends on why, how and to what extent it’s used

Information or data as such have no value by themselves. As any intangible asset they acquire their value by being used within a business process or activity. What brings the matter on another field than technology : why use them, how to use them, what limits should be set.

The “why” is a cultural matter. Big Data and analytics question our decision-making and prediction models and relie on new approaches that are inductive and not deductive as we’ve been used to. What looks like a copernican revolution for many generations of managers. Having an appropriate use of structured, unstructured or polystructured data, do not restrict to proprietary data but learn not exploit the common good that is the web and understand a new field of possibilities in terms of service offering and decision requires a specific DNA. Today, very few businesses have a data culture, even if will surely change in the future.

The “how” is about the impact of culture on the organization. If it’s easy to understand the importance of data, businesses must organize to make the most of it. Being able to make better real-time decisions is useless if one is incapable of executing them, getting organized, reconfiguring according to what data tell. The “data organization” must have agility and resilience as core management principles. And have them actually enforced.

An ethical and legal responsibility in the use of big data

Then comes the question of the limit, which is the most important. There won’t be any productive, relevant and sustainable use of big data without a big data ethics, a data ethics. Today – and even more tomorrow – this data ethics will be the cornerstone of a trusted relationship with the market. Tomorrow it will also become a matter of liability in a domain that won’t avoid new specific regulations since actual ones won’t be enough to prevent misuses. The massive use of data in customer relationship, the visible part of the iceberg, reinforced the questioning on actual but less visible uses. That’s all grist for the mill of those who already call users for more vigilance and ask the only worthy question : to what extent can we trade privacy for commodity. A concern that should not be peculiar to businesses : according to Timo Elliott vendors must also take a stand, adopt a kind a ethics policy and be exemplary.

In short if you consider that the massive use of Big Data and analytics will drive growth, efficiency and be a business accelerator, you’re absolutely right. If you imagine that the only questions that will raise will be around Hadoop, NOSQL and how to reinject the right data into the right business process, you may face severe disappointments in a close future.