Sunday, 13 July 2014

Don't Be Evil

Many of you will have heard that loyalty card data can be a predictor of epidemic and illness.
There is also research to show that Twitter can be used to chart the spread of disease and the emergent trends of a virus. 
Now the growth in wearable technology promises a rich source of data to be mined. Google is eyeing this carefully. Buoyed by the success of its flu trends, Larry Page recently claimed that Google could save 100,000 lives per year with access to healthcare data.

Wearables are already providing behavioural and core body function data. So what could Google do if they had access to the data from wearables - not only the data from their own products such as the Google Watch and Glasses but also from third party fitness trackers and cardiac monitors? And what if this data could be combined further to include loyalty card data and patient medical data? The
impact would be potentially paradigm-shifting.

Such would be the knowledge and insight gained from the slicing and dicing of the data, we could treat the healthy, not just the sick. We could predict population trends in disease early and tailor personalised solutions proactively with such speed that patients had treatment options before they even knew they were at risk. We could feed valuable focused data into research that progresses finding solutions to a wide range of medical problems.

So should Google be doing this? Of course they should. No other organisation on this planet has the capacity, access or processes to capture and make sense out of the gigantic data. There are very genuine concerns around data privacy and data transfer. But the benefits to humanity in terms of clinical efficacy, disease eradication and affordable healthcare for all must outweigh the fear and spur us to find new models and frameworks for the likes of Google to operate in.

Google like any multinational corporate will do what they need to do to increase value for their shareholders. This includes playing off the tax systems of nation states against each other. So we get the not uncommon situation of Google earning $18 billion in the UK over a five year period but only paying $16 million in tax. As long as governments continue to look inward, this will not change. But there are ways for Google to contribute.

Googles IPO stated "Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains". Over the coming years they will have an opportunity to put this in action.  They need not sell our intimate personal health data to insurance companies. They need not remarket remedies to us based on our symptoms. They could just provide the world with the data we need, no strings attached.

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.