- With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Information Technology has become a pervasive force at all levels of organizations whether their focus is government, business, recreation, education or a combination of them all. Device convergence has resulted in the technology utopian goal of constantly connected devices in the hands of data consumers providing access to information that has never been easier. The phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” has never been more true than in our modern, connected culture. Information is power and the more information for which we are responsible the more power we directly or indirectly inherit. As the Information Stewards of the 21st century it is our primary responsibility to ensure this data is used efficiently and accurately for the betterment of those who both give and receive the information we provide while avoiding causing harm to those that provide that data to us.
Data Driven Decision Making
Data driven decision making is key to the success or failure of any technology connected effort. The Internet may be the greatest tool ever released on mankind for “leveling the playing field” when it comes to access to pertinent data for decision making processes. Organizations from a one man jack-of-all-trades to companies employing tens of thousands of people all require access to data to determine which efforts are working well versus areas needing further scrutiny. As we review the type and content of the data they need it becomes clear that the requirements of any organization regardless of size tend to be the same: accurate data resulting in actionable information. Most organizations recognize that they need access to information about the client base they serve. This information can be categorized into three repeatable, programmable and usable data silos resulting in tools better enabling decision makers to reach organizationally positive conclusions.
The first and probably most obvious data silo is usage data. Whether tracking website views or app taps every organization needs to know how their information is accessed and used. Usage data may be as simple as how many times a page was loaded to a more complex model of how many times a page was loaded by operating system and browser sorted by time on site from specific referrers. Suddenly determining what should be “above the fold” on that simple web page isn’t so simple. Luckily for technology solutions of any size there are a myriad of tools available both free and for a fee that provide this type information in multiple forms from simple graphs to complex data slices represented with exportable pivot tables. Using this data to help guide our decision making process ensures users get the information they need.
The second largest data silo used for decision making tends to be based on location data. Location data can vary from where a user is standing in a store aisle using Bluetooth beacons to an approximation of what country they are in based on IP address. Understanding where a user is physically combined with the how they use your tool provides greater insight into what type of data should be delivered to them at the appropriate place. If we know the country in which the user is in then our information needs to be translated to the appropriate language with useful local references. While using location data can be extremely valuable for technologies such as push notifications for sales at a nearby retail outlet, technologists also need to always keep in mind the privacy concerns and rights of their users. Using location and usage data together help guide our decision making process to ensure users get information they need in the place they need it most.
The third, and likely most valuable, data silo is user demographic information. Demographics can be as simple as knowing a user’s gender or as complex as gender based purchasing decisions sliced by median income in a given zip code. User demographics are a powerful decision making tool, but must be managed efficiently. While combining web search histories with current location data and gender information to push advertisements for certain products may be a good thing; it could also be very damaging if a child is using the device and suddenly gets an advertisement for lingerie because they walked past the ladies section of the store. Understanding the demographics of whom the current user is is critical and key to any information presentation model. Using demographic, location and usage data together help guide our decision making process to ensure the right users get the right information in the right place.
All of this data collection leads us to one conclusion: accurate data is absolutely necessary for decision making. We stand on the greatness built by the generations before us. They gave us the Internet, TCP/IP stack and the World Wide Web to gather and exchange information. As the Information Stewards of the 21st century it is our job to ensure that these tools are used to provide the best user experience possible by combining the most accurate data available in a manner that results in the ultimate goal of all data collection: actionable information. Technologists today should have their own Hippocratic Oath and take it to heart: I will collect and provide data for the good of my users according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.
- About the Author
Sean Tibbetts is the CEO and co-founder of Cyber Timez Inc. His information technology career spans over 20 years beginning as an owner/operator of a classic dial-up bulletin board system and as a contributor to multiple open source projects in the early nineties. He has participated on and led teams to design, develop and implement case management systems, the world’s fastest OCR and data entry engines and health care data mining systems. His current focus is on mobile technologies with a strong focus on wearable devices and the Internet of Things.