Short Biography of Torrance Mayberry

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Big Data: The Hidden Asset in Born Digital Organisations.

This examines one of the critical factors that will enable born digital organisations to propel the trajectory of their competitive advantage. The world is changing fast and born digitals (those shaping the digitally social future) continue to innovate game changing technology based on a hidden asset helping shape the digital future. Born digital organisations have been using Big Data successfully in their businesses enabling them to change the face of technology and society.

Born digital organisations like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, FourSquare, and many others, have embodied and embedded social sciences into core business models ensuring they are better positioned to thrive irrespective of economic uncertainty. They understand that social sciences play a significant role in disrupting markets in a digitally social world. It is this hidden asset that will become increasingly important as it gives them a solid foundation to ethically harness social data to help advance the human condition.

On the backdrop of the world becoming increasingly interconnected, a phenomenon inherent in this Big Data era is the vast amount of social data that is digitally produced as humans go about their daily lives. The circulation of social data throughout the wider social-ecosystem will virtually have no limit as technology innovations introduce all kinds of everyday things in society that can be connected and context aware.

For instance, Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, suggests that virtually everything human beings own in society will have its own internet address and, as the momentum continues, "home appliances, keys, wine cellars, the dog's collar - everything" has the possibility to be affected[1]. The significance of the phenomenon has also influenced traditional organisations. Ford recently opened a Big Data lab in the Silicon Valley highlighting what they now envisage is an integral part of the automotive future [2].

Researchers and entrepreneurs around the world have been developing systems that will optimise digital interactions. Researchers at the University of Virginia have demonstrated the commercial possibilities that can be achieved through sensors to track typical objects for household environments. This has the possibility to provide household environments with an enhanced ability to keep track of the locations of everyday household objects such as keys, remotes, kids toys and so on. Households empowered with access to such capabilities will find it much easier to keep track of all type of physical objects in their daily lives [3][4][5].

There is also greater availability of autonomous sensors used to monitor everything from weather to human digestive tracts. This produces a diversity of social data unseen until now and it has the ability to usher in the digitally social world.

Organisations that apply social sciences will be better positioned to understand what this new data is telling them in order to shape the digital future and develop products and services that can help change the lives of people for the better. Most born digital organisations already have a head start and most have successfully infused social sciences, imagination, creativity and, of course, computational thinking within their organisations. Big Data, combined with the hidden asset of social sciences, is enabling them to quickly introduce innovations to compute their way to a socially and ecologically sustainable future.

Born digitals will break away from much of the competition as they have recognised the importance of moving beyond the fields of hard science and business to truly combine the fields of social sciences into their working practices. They have established the necessary bench strength to compete in this new era. For instance, researchers at Twitter, Facebook and Google have been applying social sciences to shape the digital future through actively creating new knowledge for the field. This will become an increasingly valuable asset as digital interactions will require an understanding of human behaviours [6][7][8][9].

This advantage will not only help them to discover new types of research data about human behaviour, but it will also enable them to adopt feedback learnings into their core business models to disrupt markets [10]. Infusing and applying social sciences within their business models enables them to investigate human and social dynamics at all levels of analysis, including cognition, decision making, behaviour, groups, organisations, societies, and the digital world.

The many discussions I've had with information technology researchers and analysts about the role social data plays in shaping the digital future, prompted me to reflect on a past experience I had as a technologist in the 90's.

At that time social science researchers, practitioners, and policy makers recognised and seized upon an opportunity that enabled many with a technologist background to apply computational thinking to develop applications and instruments for the human services field (Sociology, Psychology, Social Work, Psychiatry).

A critical aspect of technology innovations back then focussed on the ability to provide the human services field with richer information on human related behaviours, perceptions, intentions, desires, concerns, and beliefs. An aim was to ensure insights were gleaned from social data to help empower children, families and communities. Although in the early days my experience in social science research was concentrated in the US, collecting, storing, and analysing this data was critical to understanding the mechanisms by which people express themselves worldwide and in diverse situations.

I had the privilege of applying computational thinking to help produce Intervention Services-Activity Based Costing (IS-ABC) as an instrument. It was an automated system of costing intervention services or programs in the human services field. Among other things, it enabled policy makers to evaluate the relative performance of programmes and interventions. In addition, it provided the foundation for Outcome Based Decision Making (ODBM) to ensure optimal and sustainable delivery of services [11].

Although, much of the focus in the Silicon Valley at the time was on technology innovations for business, I was fortunate to experience first hand how the ethical use of social data can help to change outcomes in society.

The collaborative process with the researchers in the field was an important factor that ensured the instruments I helped develop kept people at the centre of service. For instance, time spent with Metis Associates  and the Annie E. Casey Foundation Family-To-Family Initiative also helped me to understand the value of social data when there is an ethical intent to use it to advance the human condition. Our analysis method (IS-ABC) was accepted and presented in 1997 at Portland State University Regional Research Institute for human services.

There are still many unanswered questions about Big Data and how the social sciences field will be used to help shape the digital future. The issues regarding personal privacy and how people will have the peace of mind that their information is not being used unfairly is still a work in progress. As born digital organisations contribute to social science research through their innovations they will have an advantage  they will better understand how the rise of Big Data will influence changes as the world becomes more digitally social.

Now back to those discussions with information technology researchers and analysts it was my experiences in the social sciences field that gave me a solid foundation to combine computational thinking and the social sciences to encode and decode real world social data signals. Moreover, the experience inspired me to innovate applications and instruments in collaboration with social science researchers, practitioners, and policy makers, placing at the epicentre of our innovations the purpose to advance the human condition.


[1] Bort, J. (2012).A Whole New Version Of The Internet Is About To Be Switched On.
Business Insider.

[2] King, R. (2012). Ford Opens Silicon Valley Lab to Mine Big Data. The Wall Street Journal.

[3] Nirjon, S and Stankovic, A., J. (2012). Kinsight: Localizing and Tracking Household Objects using Depth-Camera Sensors. Department of Computer Science University of Virginia.

[4] Living Labs. (2012). Farglory LeftBank Smart Urban in New Taipei City

[5] Esser, B., Schnorr, J. M., Swager, T. M. (2012). Selective Detection of Ethylene Gas Using Carbon Nanotube-based Devices: Utility in Determination of Fruit Ripeness. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 51: 5752–5756. doi: 10.1002/anie.201201042.

[6] Markoff, J. (2012). Troves of Personal Data, Forbidden to Researchers. The New York Times.

[7] Lin, J. and Mishne, G. (2012). A Study of "Churn" in Tweets and Real-Time Search Queries (Extended Version). Social and Information Networks (cs.SI), Cornell University. 

[8] Simonite, T. (2012). What Facebook Knows. Technology Review, MIT.

[9] King, G. (2011). Ensuring the Data-Rich Future of the Social Sciences. Science 331, 719.

[10] Cha, E. A. (2012). ‘Big data’ from social media, elsewhere online redefines trend-watching.
The Washington Post.

[11] Alford, K., Mayberry, T., Woodard, L. J. (1997). IS-ABC : Intervention services-activity based
costing. Library of Congress, Copyright 1997, TXu000778283.

No comments: