Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted leaders in data innovation to discuss how data is changing the way businesses operate. The conference was held in conjunction with the release of the Foundation’s report, The Future of Data-Driven Innovation, which focused on themes such as how data is driving the economy, the policies needed to foster data innovation, and how data can be used for good. Each panel touched on the theme that all businesses can use data in innovative ways to offer huge benefits for industry and society alike.
Keynote speakers included Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Julie Brill and Dr. Robert Sutor, Vice President of Business Solutions and Mathematical Sciences for IBM Research. Commissioner Brill emphasized the need for consumer trust in data-driven industries and addressed privacy concerns that might inhibit public willingness to support companies that relied on data collection and analysis. Dr. Sutor explained his role in helping IBM’s Watson famously compete and win against human opponents in Jeopardy. Sutor highlighted the difficult task of developing a cognitive computing system but explained that the payoff is worth it if more value can be generated from underused data sets. When most firms estimate they only analyze 12% of the data they collect, Sutor sees Watson as a tool to help industry better take advantage of this data in a time when “the volume, variety, velocity, and veracity of data is creating an unprecedented opportunity.”
The theme of getting more value out of existing data was addressed by numerous panelists. Lack of access to raw data, weak data flows across borders (i.e. “data nationalism”), data security concerns, and the need for data and computer science education at all levels were all listed as factors preventing the public and private sectors from tapping the full potential of big data. Private sector innovators and public officials discussed problems ranging from the lack of agricultural data being made available to farmers, to ensuring that data privacy standards are tailored to address real, demonstrable threats instead of intangible fears and uneasiness about the data industry.
The concluding panel, which focused on altruistic applications of big data, highlighted the notion that access to information is a social good, and that big data can be leveraged to pursue philanthropic goals alongside business goals. Framing the debate on big data this way is crucial, says panelist Leslie Bradshaw of Made by Many, a self-describe “innovation company” that makes digital products, when discussing the potential bias to blame big data instead of praise it. When a new drug developed through by countless hours of complex data analysis saves lives, we say “great job, medical community”, when it might be more appropriate to say “great job, data scientists”.
Panelists all agreed that data will soon be the biggest driver of the economy, if it is not already. With this enormous economic and altruistic potential in mind, it is crucial policymakers and regulators approach data-driven industry from a perspective that capitalizes on this opportunity instead of dwelling on unsubstantiated fears.