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Does Big Data give us big answers or big problems?

In the second of a three-part series on digital evolution – not revolution – Beverley Eggleton looks at the debate around Big Data. How much do we really need and where are the limits?

Welcome to the second of a third-part blog series on digital evolution written for our sister organisation the WORKTECH Academy. The first post looked at the role of tech in adding value to buildings and our third will explore technology change management. This time we look at the Big Data debate and consider where we are really headed with it.

So, when it comes to data, is bigger really better?

Yes, we’re in a data-centric world, but how much data do we really need? Let’s think about managing a property estate. A property can produce huge amounts of data on anything from the building’s energy performance, noise and light levels, air and water quality, through to occupancy.

The question the business needs to ask is: how can we design our new workplace environment based on how people are using the existing one? As well as monitoring the building and its facilities, tech such as video analytics, beacons, wi-fi data and sociometric badges can record where an employee goes, who they interact with, and even the tone and nature of these interactions.

Data management is undoubtedly a new skill set, for the use of data in our lives is exploding.  IBM predicts demand for data scientists will soar 28 per pent by 2020.

By 2020, according to estimates from IT research firm Gartner, there will be 26 billion connected IoT (Internet of Things) devices – up from 900 million in 2009.  IDC forecasts that by 2025 the global datasphere will grow to 163 zettabytes – that is a trillion gigabytes, and if you’re still none the wiser, it really is an incredibly huge amount.

Big data: deep minds

Machine learning and AI is taking the application of Big Data even further. Neural software is already being employed in buildings to enhance operations. For instance, London-based DeepMind, acquired by Google in 2014 for £400m, has shown how its artificial intelligence platform has reduced the amount of electricity needed to cool Google’s data centres by 40 per cent through analysing trends in its consumption data.

At The Edge, a 400,000 sq ft smart office building in Amsterdam, 28,000 sensors detect the movement of people through the building and the resulting data is used to better manage the work environment

Look at Uber. It has been cutting the number of cars on the roads of London by a third through UberPool, which caters to users who are interested in lowering their carbon footprint and fuel costs. Uber’s business is built on Big Data, with user data on both drivers and passengers fed into algorithms to find suitable and cost-effective matches, and set fare rates.

Big data: big danger?

Take again the Uber example. In October 2016, Uber suffered a massive global breach of the personal information of 57 million customers and drivers. Hackers stole personal data including names, email addresses and phone numbers, as well as the names and driver’s license numbers of about 600,000 drivers in the United States.

So Big Data might be clever, but the more you have, the more carefully you have to manage it.

In the case of a building with shared occupants, who owns the data?  Who will share it? Data needs to be aggregated carefully. Then there’s data protection to consider. Regulation advises that personal data can’t leave the premises, unless it is anonymised.

New GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) expected in 2018 is set to give all of us more power over our personal data as consumers. Companies will not be able to market to us unless we have given explicit permission for them to do so. We can also, of course, request the deletion of our data at any time and bring into force our right to be forgotten.

How much will we share?

This highlights how much of our data we as individuals are comfortable with sharing in order to receive superior service in return. The other day, I made a phone call on my mobile during which I made a health appointment. I then went to my diary to input the appointment I had just made, only for my phone to pop up with a calendar entry automatically, the subject of which was suggested as ‘Wellness appointment’. So my phone had been eavesdropping on me.

I just joined the AA car breakdown service. I downloaded the app, into which I can input all of my vehicle information and service renewal dates so that it can ‘remind’ me when these are due. But is that really to remind me, or sell to me? On the positive side, the app tells me where I can buy the cheapest petrol nearby, so it’s not all bad.

We now live in a world where we can access and share data through apps on our phone to manage our day-to-day lives. Data itself can propel powerful decision making, but what we actually capture and do with it requires careful management. This is a new skillset and requires proper thought.

To talk to Cordless about data in the workplace, say hello@cordless.co.uk

Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2018 11:23:14 +0000 GMT

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