Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Five Key Customer Data Sets

I attended an IDM knowledge and networking event recently to listen to Edwina Dunn. Edwina and her husband Clive were among the pioneers in making sense of big data. Most notable among their successes were the loyalty schemes for Tesco in the UK and Kroger in the US.

We know that both B2C and B2B businesses have increasing volumes of customer data available to them. While many of these data sets are useful when layered with each other, most are of limited use. However there are some key types of data that are very useful.

Edwina pointed to five types of customer data that are inherently useful: retail data, population data, mobile usage data, credit card data, and social media data. Each of these brings unique features and rich insights to business. When used together, these datasets can reveal opportunity and provide strong direction. 

Still wondering why Facebook acquired What's App? They have married social media data and mobile usage data, two of these key five data sets. With the International Telecommunications Union reporting that 5.2 billion of the world's 6.8 billion mobile phones are in the developing world, this is a powerful combination, reinforcing Facebook's position as the leader in social media with potential to grow further, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Did usability issues change the course of a referendum?

Voters in the Irish Republic went to the polls on October 4th to vote on a referendum on the status of the upper house of the Irish parliament. The government proposed referendum to the Irish constitution called for the end of the Senate, known in Irish as the Seanad. Those opposing wanted to keep the institution.

The result was a close one with those wanting to keep the Seanad in existence winning by a margin of just 42,500 votes from a total poll of less than 1.3 million.

However, there was confusion in the minds of some voters in how to express their intention and this was not helped by the ballot paper layout and wording.

I was in Ireland on polling day. I heard and read several anecdotal accounts in the media of voter confusion, enough to suggest something was not quite right. 

The referendum was perceived in simplest terms as a question about whether voters wanted to keep the Seanad. So it seems that there were a minority of voters who expressed that they did not want to keep this institution by voting NO – NO to the Seanad. This is essentially what the vote was about. However, the referendum was proposed as an abolition of the institution, essentially a negative act, taking something away.  To agree with this, voters had to vote YES. While the majority of voters understood this and voted in a manner that correctly expressed their preference,
there were some who didn’t, particularly on the side of those who did not want the Seanad to continue. 

The referendum commission produced an excellent
independent information hand-out (pdf) before the vote. However, many voters would not have read it, particularly as it seemed to bear little immediate relevance to their day-to-day struggle during a time of austerity.

None of this was helped by there being two referenda on the same day, with voters supplied with two very similar ballot papers which referenced the numerical amendments to the constitution without displaying the concept in plain English or plain Irish Gaelic.

These issues of usability probably inflated the eventual NO vote. Were there 21, 251 confused would-be YES voters who voted the wrong way, enough to overturn the result?  That is impossible to say, although nearly all opinion polls before the vote gave the YES camp a substantial lead.

What is clear is the necessity to think about core concepts and how best to address your target audience to get optimal understanding. This applies across referenda, problem solving and day-to-day business processes. Keep it simple. 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Hacking Apple

Apple’s new iPhone 5s comes with a fingerprint sensor, called TouchID. Apple says it promotes the use of the TouchID as an easy and secure way to protect information and privacy given that some 50% of smart phone users who do not secure access to their phone with a passcode. Its fingerprint sensor, built into the iPhone 5s is about the same thickness of a human hair.  The claimed accuracy for their software is that there is only a 1 in 50,000 chance of someone else’s fingerprint being mistaken for one which is registered in their system.

However, despite Apple’s lofty claims, it took only days before hackers in Germany had successfully foiled the TouchID. Using high res photographs, laser printing and a film of wood glue, they were able to create a fake fingerprint copy, enabling them to access the iPhone 5s with ease. 



But that should not come as a surprise. Fingerprint spoofing has been around for quite some time, and recipes for obtaining and faking fingerprints using little more than silicon and gelatine abound on the Internet. Apple’s TouchID is more difficult to hack because of the higher resolution and subsequent higher number of match points checked. But that does not mean their system is fool proof.

So while the TouchID is a reasonable way to protect non-confidential data, you should use multiple methods to secure confidential and high-worth data. Use a combination of fingerprint and passcode or other biometrics such as voice or facial recognition.

Apple may do well to look at how education giant Pearson ensures security at its testing centres. Pearson uses palm vein scanning, a biometric that is much more difficult to hack.  Combined with other security and identity processes, it ensures an extremely high level of confidence in their protocols. This is used in the delivery of a number of high stakes tests, including PTE Academic, a product that I was closely involved with, pre and post-launch, during my time with Pearson.