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Data gazing: what does the future hold?

Danny Hicks, who co-ordinates our Thought Leadership Programmes at Virgin Media O2, considers the increasing role that data is providing in a landscape of increasing scrutiny, regulation compliance and appreciation of the real value that insights can bring.

As we look to the future it’s evident that businesses need to know more about their customers, gain insights from their behaviour and communicate more effectively with them than ever before. Data, and the insights data delivers, are key to improving products, services and content, but also help ensure relevance in an increasingly noisy digital world, while also identifying areas for improvements to be made to employee and customer engagement models.

The role of IoT

Earlier in the year, Davin Crowley-Sweet, from Highways England, contributed to Episode 15 of the Blue Door Podcast. He suggested that something fundamental has changed with data and its collection. Where companies once regarded data as a by-product of a process, there is a growing appreciation of the insights gained from the expanding number of sensors and IoT devices, and how the data from these sources can help to develop a digital echo of the real world. Even as we aggregate and anonymise data, analytics allows us to understand better what is possible, and how to prioritise and achieve it. It doesn’t just allow for historical information when this occurs, but also allows us to model and evaluate changes – from traffic flow following the construction of a new office building, to understanding how supply chain improvements might be identified and actioned.

The role of AI

With so much data becoming available, we can’t rely on analysis by humans alone. With most industries able to take advantage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in one way or another, it is the only way to identify patterns, trends or disruptions from potentially billions of pieces of information each day – and providing actionable insights in a very short timeframe.

In the last couple of years I have seen examples in virtually every sector, including in medical science for the early detection of disease, accelerating financial workflows such as lending approvals, and the use in the development of self-driving vehicles. There is significant need to grow the number of data scientists and engineers available to work on building the algorithms to not only identify patterns, but make sense of what the data is trying to tell us – to turn in to information that is understandable, and most importantly actionable.

Data and personalisation

Increasingly I hear business leaders talking about the importance of personalisation for a brand’s future success. And although I agree, it raises a dilemma about consumers’ concerns about data security, and what data they are willing to share. GDPR, along with other regulations and guidance, exists for good reason, but the realisation that an individual’s information has value is now being appreciated by more and more consumers, and that needs to be considered and returned to the individual in some way – not just necessarily in monetary form, but improvement in services, quality, or some other way, but it must be transparent and tangible.

Personally, for example, I like the idea of walking into a fast-food restaurant and finding my regular food order waiting for me at the order kiosk. This could be from facial recognition, or a Bluetooth token, or something that I’ve agreed is allowed to identify me when I enter the restuarnt, and knowing it’s use is to expedite my order (which I can always over-ride via the restaurant’s app for example if I fancy a change). Yet whilst I am comfortable with a restaurant knowing what my favourite food is, I feel uncomfortable about the restaurant keeping record of my date of birth or credit card details. Knowing what can be done with those two pieces of information makes me feel that’s a step too far, even if it could speed up the payment process, or give me benefits on my birthday, I’ve made the decision how much data I want to share. It’s important to realise different information is being appreciated to have different value – and it varies for each individual. Give someone a free side of fries for their birthday, and that might hit their “value” button to provide their birth date detail.

The challenge for brands striving to personalise their marketing is to identify precisely what data they need to collect, and be transparent about why they are collecting it. Earlier in the year in Episode 15 of the Blue Door Podcast Chaminga Chandratillake, Chief Analytics Officer at Sainsbury’s, was very clear about what was required. He suggested that the condition for any organisation is that you must provide a genuine and compelling benefit in exchange for offering up personal information. Privacy is paramount. The days of collecting as much data as possible, in the hope that it might prove valuable, are behind us. I believe we are entering an era where requests for personal date are unambiguous and direct, and the ways that brands use data is open and transparent. In doing so you can generate trust, which is of tangible value when asking for more information, for example with surveys or product feedback.

Data enrichment

There is an assumption that if you want to establish valuable insights about your customers and prospects then your organisation must collect the data itself in order to do so. Not necessarily. We are seeing plenty of examples of a single data set being enriched with additional data sets from a variety of sources.

Education suppliers combine their own customer data with data concerning school performance, size, funding status and deprivation to profile their customers and identify prospects most likely to purchase. Retailers combine their own data with anonymised and aggregated mobile network data to measure footfall and popularity of potential store locations. And perhaps the ultimate realisation of insight from data comes from the smart city – where traffic, climate, street furniture and mobile usage data is combined to deliver efficient commuting, lower carbon levels, better air quality, and higher quality, more energy efficient local services.

Data and sustainability

We recognise that data must play its part in delivering sustainable solutions. O2 Motion is O2 Business’ demographic data product, which delivers anonymous, aggregated mobile usage data generated from billions of daily network events. It provides rich insights on population movement, profiles and preferences, enabling organisations to plan effectively and make efficient, timely and sustainable decisions.

A good example is monitoring traffic volumes and travel conditions. Most existing systems rely on expensive hardware, like the cameras mounted onto motorway bridges that need regular maintenance and updates, or the roadside survey that will manually count vehicles certain times of days. O2 Business’ Real Time Transit Insights (RTTI) service is a software solution, providing insights on traffic volumes, as well as profile data of the types and groups of people travelling, in near real-time (just a four-minute delay). It enables transport planners to make efficient and sustainable driving decisions, with no initial hardware capital investment, almost real-time insights, and no ongoing maintenance costs or commitments.

These are just a handful of the considerations around how data is helping organisations to innovate effectively. We’d love to talk to you about how to maximise the potential of the data and insights you already have, as well as the insights we can provide about your customer base. You can connect with me via LinkedIn.



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