While businesses continue to focus on people, process and technology, they do need to apportion more effort into their data strategy.
There is a common belief in the world of business that you need three key things to achieve success. First, you need great people who are willing to work hard to achieve business goals. Second, you need solid processes that make sure organizations follow certain protocols and make sure that everything is “pulling in the same direction.” And then third, you need robust technology to help people do the job at hand, be that computer software programs in the office or machinery on the shop floor.
And yet, as many a professionals in the data industry will tell you, there is one more thing that is missing from the P.P.T. mantra: data. They say that data now drives a company, data allows people to know much more about things and do more things than it ever could do before. Hence, the era of the data-driven enterprise, where it’s not the process or technology that drives the business the most, now it’s the data. But I would go a stage further. It’s not just data; it’s what you do with the information. It’s ethics, too.
Many continue to refer to data as the new oil. But, that’s a simplistic viewpoint and misses out a whole part of the conversation. In fact, I was recently at an event where a well-respected data professional said that data is also viewed by many as the new asbestos. And this is where the subject of ethics becomes more important. Let me explain.
You see, much is made of the ability to maximize data, to use it to unearth insights and intelligence that can drive a business forward. And much is made of the positive impact this has. However, flip the coin over, and you could also say that the data revolution is causing a problem for many other people. The fact that businesses can put data to work in so many new ways also opens the door for unethical behavior and using it to the disadvantage of customers instead. And while there are organizations in place to deal with the misuse of sensitive data, it can still go on undetected and in fact no doubt does.
So where do you draw the line? After all, how do you weigh up laws such as the right to know (e.g. in the UK covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000) and the right to privacy (e.g. in the UK covered by the Human Rights Act 1998), two parliamentarian acts that can on first glance seem contradictory? How do businesses use data in a way that wins the confidence of consumers and the public who accept that data is being harnessed and uses for all the right reasons? At the same time, how do they ensure they are not crossing the line between helpfulness and intrusion?
Clearly, it’s an ever evolving debate and will continue for some time, but one thing is clear: while businesses continue to focus on people, process and technology, they do need to apportion more effort into their data strategy and ensure that information is used in the most optimum and most ethical way possible.
People, process, technology? Yes. Data and ethics? Even more so.