IT should come as little surprise that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, — after the high-profile Facebook-data scandal — announced this week that it was shutting down.
According to its website, the company ‘uses data to change audience behaviour’ and curiously, seems to have suffered a fate based on the ongoing and unfavourable media coverage regarding its ability to influence election outcomes. If a company could surreptitiously harvest data to achieve such powerful objectives, imagine what equally powerful advances could be made with the power of data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis.
If this sounds complicated to you, then fear not! It is much easier than you might think. For someone like your humble servant, whose work involves developing plans on effectively using data, synthesising data, and developing policies for the usage of data, it can be shocking when even the simplest of tools are not used to achieve modest gains, by the government, banks and insurance companies, and even small businesses.
Not too long ago, I applied for a new cheque book, and was astonished that the ‘cheque book replacement form’ required you to supply the starting number for the new batch of cheques. This simple requirement has the potential for mistakes to be made, where duplicate cheques may be re-issued to the same person. By simply tracking the last number of the set of cheques already issued to you, the bank could easily simplify its cheque replacement form, reduce the scope of errors being made, and even speed up the process. Better yet, it could even re-engineer and improve service by pre-emptively sending you the next batch of cheques without waiting for you to apply for those cheques.
When you recognise how some data could be used to make predictions and simplify business interactions, you may appreciate how a larger organisation can make more sophisticated predictions. Have you ever considered why supermarket chains want to scan your loyalty card when making a purchase? For a start, they could predict — and confirm — that you are shopping for the usual combination of items.
Imagine if the government, which knows so much about us already, could use what is already known to make our lives easier. Do you know when your ID card or passport is due to expire? Guess who already knows? Do they have your contact details to send you a reminder as the time draws near? Quite likely! Why not willingly use such data to improve productivity? That, is the right question to be asked.
If you repeatedly ask customers to supply you with data, you should be ready to use that data to help them in some useful way.
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About the Author
Dr.Lyndell St. Ville is an ICT Consultant offering expertise in data management, systems design, and analysis.