More data should be open and drive decision-making


Practically speaking, every organisation generates data either by design or as a by-product of conducting its business. This includes logs and customer feedback that have typically been used only partially. Data is often called the new oil, and for a good reason. It follows that artificial intelligence is processing this oil into products in the form of information.

With the value of data discovered, new uses within organisations have been identified. Since a single organisation can often only see a part of the whole picture, external data can bring substantial added value.

This is why I believe artificial intelligence systems or the networks of different parties could act as a data processing chain where one party generates source data for another or two parties combine their data assets. This would provide a third party with more raw material for its models, for a fee.

More data should be open

Some open data from the public sector is already available for anyone but the private sector has not been very eager to share or sell its data. There are several reasons why this is still at such an early stage.

Many companies feel it is still too insignificant as a source of income to warrant investment when contract and privacy issues are so complicated. They worry about how their customers or users, who often have generated the raw data through their actions, would react to the sale of the data, no matter how well it has been anonymised. They are also worried that they might reveal to the competition material that is sensitive to their business.

Mobile phone operators, however, have already started sharing their data. To ensure that messages find their way in their networks, operators periodically monitor the locations of user devices. With so many devices, there is an enormous amount of data. In the past, data was only stored to diagnose failures and optimise networks but today it is packaged for sale. It reveals nothing about individuals but provides a good statistical view of how masses behave. I have used such data as source data in many projects in different countries.

Data aids decision-making in the tourism sector

In the tourism sector, surveys are still commonly conducted to complement statistics to understand tourists’ behaviour, but they are a slow-moving and expensive tool and their samples are limited. One municipal travel bureau wanted to better understand the people who visit the city: where they come from, how long they stay, where they visit, how much they spend and on what, and what they did and did not enjoy.

To create a report for the bureau, we used data from mobile phone networks, a credit card company and social media and gained new and very detailed information. The report enabled them to tell to the hour how many people of different nationalities visited different sights and then make informed decisions that used to be based on guesswork.

Combined with other external variables such as the weather, holidays and special events, this information enables them to evaluate the significance of different factors. One ski resort discovered how the snow situation affects how far people will come from and when and what they will do. The next step in plans is to develop a derivative model that can help optimise resources. It can also help marketing to maximize the number of tourists irrespective of the weather and season.

Data informs service design in developing countries

Developing countries offer an example of a different way to use data. These countries often lack proper public records and statistics that in Finland are considered a given.

In a project supported by the Swedish government, mobile phone data has been used to conduct an approximate census in several African countries. The census enables governments and also organisations to make better need-based plans for public services and transport services. The spread of epidemics has been modelled on the basis of analyses of traffic volumes between various areas, so when an epidemic emerges, effective action can be taken quickly.

Data introduces new perspectives and innovations

Increasing the movement of data between the different parties of an ecosystem involves a number of technical, legal and ethical issues that must be resolved. Ecosystems are an excellent forum for collaboratively dealing with such challenges and finding solutions to them.

Since data significantly increases the value of artificial intelligence, we should decide what could already be acquired or shared, either for free or for a fee, to gain new perspectives and inspire new innovations.

Ilkka Huotelin is the founder of Be Customer Smart Oy and advises organisations in the use of data and artificial intelligence.

About the author

Huotelin Ilkka

Ilkka Huotelin

Managing Partner – Co-Founder at BeCustomerSmart

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