"Make it so!" Such is the ideal scenario for every manager everywhere, right? You have an idea? You figured it out? Just assign that task to a trusted colleague and watch as the magic happens. Well, maybe that's a reality best expressed in a famous sci-fi TV series, but ...
... the best news these days? Science fiction often predicts the future quite accurately; and the 1990s future is, well, today! In other words, the vision espoused by Star Trek: Next Generation, in many ways can now be qualified as realistic, at least with respect to the dynamic use of data.
Let's face it: Data drives the Information Economy, especially when modern technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are trained on it. That's the key to the next generation of innovation for data-driven organizations, and it comes just in time.
Why just in time? For starters, compliance initiatives from around the globe are now closing in on old ways of doing business. The General Data Protection Regulation, adopted by the European Union and put into action on May 25, 2018, places serious mandates on any organization that caters to citizens of the EU.
The spectrum of impact that GDPR creates can barely be measured. Though not prescriptive, the regulation covers a vast swath of territory: lawfulness, transparency, purpose, minimization of data used, processing, accuracy, storage, security and accountability. Basically everything.
One of the most significant challenges associated with GDPR is the so-called right to be forgotten. In essence, this policy suggests that companies must eradicate all personal data of any consumer who demands as much. Those in the data industry realize how hard this truly is.
In the first place, data about consumers finds its way into numerous enterprise systems: enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, business intelligence, sales and marketing automation--the list goes on and on. What's more, redundancy reigns.
Then there's the issue of identity resolution: who is this consumer, specifically? Rest assured, there are cases of mistaken identity. And to the point of redundant data, there are many cases of one consumer having multiple records at any given organization. This is very common.
While GDPR does not technically apply to non-EU citizens, it's widely recognized as a straw in the wind, as evidenced by the arguably more stringent California Consumer Privacy Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018 and goes into effect Jan. 1. The stars have aligned; marketers must innovate.
Then there's the New York Privacy Act, which goes further than either of its predecessors. Though NYPA was not enacted, it represents a serious shot across the bow, because it would allow citizens to sue individual companies for privacy violations, likely triggering an onslaught of lawsuits.
The risk of being sued en masse for privacy violations will send chills down the spines of executives and board members everywhere. A genuine strategy is necessary to effectively prepare for this contingency, one that is agile, embraces governance and respects privacy.
Of course, regulations don't appear out of nowhere. Social, cultural and political dynamics coalesce over time to create a groundswell of interest in a particular topic. Sometimes, major events spur such developments, such as with the Enron scandal, which led to Sarbanes-Oxley.
In this instance, long-simmering concerns around privacy and practice finally boiled over in the EU with GDPR. But stateside, we addressed similar concerns with the CAN-SPAM Act back in 2003, which regulates, but certainly does not prohibit, the practice of sending bulk emails.
Fast forward to the brink of 2020, and we find a vastly different world. The meteoric rise of Facebook, in and of itself, acted like a bull in the china shop of personal privacy. To wit: the social media giant got tagged by the Federal Trade Commission with a $5 billion fine!
This got just about everyone in the business world thinking much more seriously about the importance of privacy. No doubt, directors and rank-and-file members of data governance committees everywhere took note, redoubling their efforts to get senior management engaged.
Add to this the rapid maturation of mobile advertising combined with location intelligence, and there's now a whole new world of opportunity--and responsibility--for organizations to embrace and understand. Simply put, the reality of omni-channel marketing is overwhelming.
The Right to be Respected
Getting back to our Star Trek metaphor, let's think rationally, like Commander Data from Next Generation, or Spock from the original series: We can distill all these privacy concerns and related information practices down a a basic principle: the right to be respected.
In all iterations of the Star Trek genre, a code of conduct pervades, one that is collegial, diligent and purposeful. Every member of the crew is expected to treat each other with respect, regardless of rank or role. This standard of respect forms a foundation of trust and transparency.
As regards privacy regulations in general, the key for success in today's world requires the ability to define clear policies, then map them to all manner of operational systems. Considering the scale of this challenge, traditional IT solutions will not suffice.
Most legacy systems lack the scalability, computational power and basic functionality to get the job done. However, with a cloud-centric, microservices architecture, old-world IT can be woven into a hybrid-cloud fabric, allowing much data and even some systems to remain intact.
This hybrid approach is the hallmark for the next generation of technologies which benefit from an array of advances: in-memory computing to deliver necessary speed; artificial intelligence and machine learning to tackle the tedious; and a cloud-based approach to centralize control.
The AI & Operations Cockpit
Which brings us back to the bridge, that place where Captains James T Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard and Katherine Janeway commanded their starships. Today's leading-edge organizations can now assimilate the kind of power and control enjoyed by those fictional characters.
In the context of privacy, and the right to be respected, here are just a few examples of how the new era of data-driven organizations can tackle the challenges of today's world:
- machine learning algorithms can crawl across massive troves of data to dynamically determine where Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is located; this paves the way to addressing core concerns with GDPR, CCPA and related regulations;
- artificial intelligence (in the form of neural networks, aka deep learning) can pave the way not only to self-driving cars, but also autonomous information systems, ranging from procurement to pricing, classification to customer service;
- real-time processing can vastly improve customer experience, by dynamically provisioning information from a wide range of omni-channel systems, this informing representatives of the very latest developments, across practically any touchpoint with customers or clients;
- machine-learning algorithms can successfully segment any collection of data points -- whether for customers, products, incidents or other use cases -- into discrete groups, thus enabling both frontline workers and decision-makers by clarifying focus areas, and thus expediting results; and
- advanced analytics can reveal deep insights about customer sentiment, drawing from a range of sources including social media, text analytics, even voice and facial recognition software, which have reached the point of providing highly accurate assessments of temperament.
We may not yet have the triquarter, that nifty device used by Star Command to scan just about anything. And we might not yet have mastered the art of teleportation. But the nexus of AI, in-memory computing, inexpensive storage and human creativity? Sure feels a lot like Star Trek!
Eric Kavanagh is CEO of The Bloor Group, a new-media analyst firm focused on enterprise technology. A career journalist with more than two decades of experience in print, broadcast and Internet media, he also hosts DM Radio for Information Management Magazine, and the ongoing Webcast series for the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP).