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Earlier this week, Telenor Group hosted some of the brightest minds in big data. The event delved into the concept of gaining insight from massive volumes of data…and doing it responsibly.
Telenor’s Head of Research and Future Studies Bjørn Taale Sandberg told the audience that we are in the midst of a global connectivity revolution in which nearly everything will be online in a not-so-distant future, even your refrigerator. This results in vast quantities of data that can be mined, analyzed and used for learning.
“We are at the end of the age of executive gut feeling,” said Sandberg. “Our data can help us answer important business questions. We can stop spamming customers and reach the right ones instead. This data can also be used for societal development, identifying disease outbreaks or predicting impending economic downturns. But it’s important for us to find the right balance between using this data, respecting laws and regulations, and taking care of our customers.”
Telenor is a big data company
Following Sandberg’s introduction, researchers Pål Sundsøy and Johannes Bjelland took the stage to discuss how Telenor currently uses big data. Sundsøy explained that there are two dimensions to the big data business case. The first is in terms of corporate culture. In an increasingly competitive industry, all company decisions should be supported by relevant data rather than pure instinct or surveys. The second dimension is the technological capability to glean insight from the vast quantities of data.
On the technological side, Bjelland explained Telenor’s use of machine learning to extract patterns from customer data in Asia, in collaboration with colleague Asif Iqbal. When patterns are discovered, behavior can be predicted and people can be targeted for an offer that they are likely to adopt. Machine learning picks up on changes in customer behavior immediately, versus realizing the same after a few failed marketing campaigns.
“Telenor is becoming a big data company, but we don’t necessarily believe it’s all about the volume but rather how you use it,” said Bjelland.
Using big data was what UN Global Pulse’s Robert Kirkpatrick focused on during his presentation. He introduced the concept of “data philanthropy” – use of big data for the greater good. The private sector is the world’s storehouse of big data at the moment, and Kirkpatrick believes that this information can be harnessed for development purposes. Early detection of anomalies, real-time awareness and real-time feedback are all possible outputs of big data.
A human rights challenge
While the possibilities are great, Kirkpatrick brought the audience back to earth with a reminder that big data can also be a human rights issue, calling it one of the greatest generational human rights issues we will face. He believes that responsible use of data for the greater good can be achieved by being transparent, keeping people anonymous, not using confidential information, never seeking to re-identify people and always assessing the privacy impact.
Social network in emergencies
The final speaker of the day came from the academic world, David Lazer from Northeastern University in Boston. He talked about social responses during emergency situations, using the example of the recent bombing incident during the Boston Marathon. During these types of situations, data shows that the first person called is usually of a romantic relationship, while phone call number two is typically to mom.
In a final panel discussion, Telenor’s privacy officer, Kjetil Rognsvåg reminded the audience that it’s crucial for Telenor to be open with customers about how we are using the data. He said we must also give our customers choice and control over what data we are allowed to process.
Information is power in this day and age, and as a telecom provider, Telenor is sitting on a huge opportunity. Sandberg added, “We need to use data responsibly, invest in research and over time, transform how we do business.”