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Big Data for the greater good

Posted July 30, 2019
Heart with data

The benefits of Big Data are innumerable, and organizations are only just beginning to explore its possibilities. Big Data drives Netflix’s content recommendations, it allows Spotify to create customized playlists, and when Costco discovered stone fruit from one of its suppliers may have been exposed to listeria, it was data that determined exactly which customers purchased the contaminated fruit to target their alerts accordingly.

“The market’s never been more competitive for businesses of all kinds, particularly with the emergence of digitally native companies,” says Randy Bean, founder and CEO of data and analytics consultancy, NewVantage Partners. “As a result, companies are really trying to harness and leverage the data they can obtain on their customers to more effectively position their services and solutions relative to the customers’ needs.” This, Bean says, can translate into anything from self-service capabilities to using Big Data to get relevant offers into customers’ hands.

But apart from business applications, there’s another side to Big Data: It can be used for social good. “It’s become a high priority to use data in a socially responsible manner, especially because of concerns in recent years about data leaks and breaches,” Bean explains. “Organizations are very concerned about the image consumers have of them in terms of data responsibility.”

Fintech and the fight against human trafficking

One industry maximizing the value of Big Data is financial services. Banks and fintech firms are using data and analytics to segment their customer lists and provide a personalized selection of services based on each consumers’ unique needs. Data has also become an important tool for identifying risk factors like fraud and unreliable investments.

While financial companies continue to leverage Big Data to improve the customer experience, they’ve also uncovered a unique way to combat illicit activities in the process. One noteworthy example involves the fight against human trafficking. This barbaric industry can generate billions in profits, prompting the United Nations (UN) to employ the data of banks and fintech companies in an effort to suss out criminal activity.

In a published interview, Dr. James Cockayne, director of the Centre for Policy Research at United Nations University, said, “I think you’re seeing a growing understanding by banks and non-banking financial institutions that there is not only an opportunity here, but also a responsibility to ensure respect for human rights. The tools are now available to help them do that in a way that is not only low-cost, but one that creates value for their business.”

Another example of data being used for social good comes from Mastercard. The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth has been working with the Urban Institute to ensure that the emergence of new technologies in urban centers doesn’t leave some consumers in the dust.

The ultimate goal of the organization is to improve citizens’ quality of life — through the use of data, expertise and technology. “For example, we will explore how governments can use new, tech-driven data and analytics to deliver public benefits to families who urgently need them,” said Sarah Rosen Wartell, president of the Urban Institute, in a recent press release.

Data and the environment

In customer service and beyond, using Big Data in the right ways can save money for companies. It provides insight into efficiencies, and allows companies to visualize how and where their products and services are needed most.

These outcomes can also have a beneficial impact on public safety and the environment, like making global supply chains more transparent and identifying opportunities for more sustainable production and shipping practices in the face of climate change.

The value of Big Data in the context of the environment, communities and social good is immeasurable, according to Adam Kaplan, CEO and co-founder of augmented reality (AR) software platform Edgybees. Edgybees allows organizations to sync real-time video from sources like drones, helicopters and body cameras with data like longitude and latitude. The result is geo-spacial information that can be used for anything from pinpointing the precise location of a forest fire, to finding residents trapped on their rooftops after a hurricane-induced flood.

To demonstrate the importance of Big Data to public safety, Kaplan offers the example of a chemical company that inadvertently parked one of its trailers over a gas line, causing a deadly explosion. Had the company been able to visualize the location of the trailer via location data-enhanced video, the accident could have been prevented.

“It’s great to have data, but what’s important is how you use it,” Kaplan says. “We live in a world where we have billions of videos and data points, and we spend our lives trying to sync it all up. We can now take that data and geo-locate it very accurately, so you’re looking at a video of a flooded street overlayed with a map.” So, Kaplan explains, when you’re trying to serve the greater good by combating a forest fire, and you want to preserve water by dropping it where it will be most effective and produce the fastest results, data can make all the difference.

While Big Data continues to enhance the customer experience, companies shouldn’t overlook its potential for serving the greater good. “There’s a significant responsibility associated with collecting large amounts of data, and companies must always be cognizant of their community of consumers,” says Bean.

“Early on, I was an advocate of organizations becoming more data-driven,” he adds. “Now I’m an advocate for responsible data use.”

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