IE Data Disrupt Event: It’s Time to Start Thinking Differently

Last week the IE Big Data Club hosted it’s inaugural event, Data Disrupt, a speaker series in which professionals working in all aspects of Big Data came together to discuss their work, upcoming trends that they’ve been noticing, and what we need to do to live harmoniously in a world with constantly changing rules thanks to the proliferation of data.

Interestingly, although each of the speakers came from different industries ranging from telecommunications, IBM Watson natural language research, virtual reality, to many others, a distinct message started coming through across all talks. That message was that we, as individuals and as a society, need to start thinking differently in order to use the new constantly evolving technologies and the new capabilities that are being discovered through more familiarity and use of Big Data.

Javier Borondo, a Data Scientist from Synergic Partners, a consulting firm that specializes in Big Data across a variety of sectors, kicked off the event by discussing what it means for a company to become data drive. Data and business analytics has now changed the way businesses understand their customers, switching from a classification method based on demographics to one based on preferences and behaviours. For instance, instead of an online travel agency recommending a cheap flight to a potential young customer, they would now recommend a flight specifically to a location where there will be famous opera event since they know this user is an opera-enthusiast. He mentions how one of the greatest things about having so much data, is that new insights derived from the data can actually create new ideas which in turn creates new companies. But this creation of new ideas and the spawning new businesses and possibilities doesn’t just stem from new insights, but also from new ways of thinking about those insights. What does this new insight really mean? What can be done with it that hasn’t been done before? In the data world, there are no barriers to these ideas. All it takes is changing from a more structured mindset to a completely different, open, and exploratory one.

The second speaker of the evening, Ivan Rejon, Head of Strategy & Marketing at Ericsson, discussed the Internet of Things and our networked society. With an estimated 50 billion devices connected around the world, there has been a huge impact on the way companies, public enterprises, and individuals behave. We have seen amazing new products and services based out of big data and cloud computing and Ivan takes us through use cases of these services ranging from smart soccer balls that can help players develop a better kick to smart diapers that can help hapless fathers understand their baby’s needs to smart streetlights saving a city’s resources. Again, this is about thinking differently about everyday objects to imbue them with a new purpose and use for our society. Ivan ended his talk by sharing with us his very apt twist on the popular proverb “every product is a service waiting to happen”. In this connected world, Ivan argues that in fact “every product is a business model waiting to happen.”

From IBM Global Business, our third speaker was Juan Taracena Arenillas who discusses the power of Watson. While Watson may not be able to turn a soccer ball into a personal trainer, it’s capabilities are still incredible in that it’s a great tool to augment our own rather limited capabilities in the world of advancing technology. For instance, how many pages of a medical journal can you read in an hour? 60? 100? 200? Well, Watson can read 2000 pages/second and can go further to actually locate one small piece of information that would otherwise be hidden within the text and therefore overlooked. So now, thinking differently isn’t about creating something new, but it’s about finding new ways to augmenting ourselves — to make humans better. We can use Watson to have a 360 degree view of everything. Now the challenge becomes thinking of ways to effectively utilize Watson and its immense potential to help us whether it’s through either cognitive cooking or new medical breakthroughs. But watch out, having Watson around will start making you think of him as another person, another employee, or even another friend given how Juan kept calling it a “he” and referring to it rather fondly as an actual person. It’s interesting and almost rather scary how seamless Watson fits in to our daily life that it becomes difficult to draw the distinction between human and machine.

Next, we heard from Co-Founder and CEO of Digital Dynamics, Rafa Mateu De Ros, who kept challenging the audience by asking a very simple question: how? How has a young 16-year old boy become a successful entrepreneur? 20 years ago, this never would have been possible. How can a popular website like Pinterest only have 2 people in their IT department? How can a purely web-based service only need two IT people? These things are possible these days because of this new access to data and evolving technology (Amazon Webservices in this case specifically). Somehow the path from idea to realization has become much shorter and because of this, innovation based on digital disruption has become a differentiation strategy. And what precisely is innovation? Well the basic definition of innovation is being able to think differently. Rafa also gave participants a chance to try out the popular Oculus Rift virtual reality product. An innovative device that lets users experience something that wouldn’t otherwise be possible like a trip to Westeros’ Wall in the North or space as seen from an astronaut’s perspective.

Finally, international key note speaker, Jose Luis Agundez, Head of Big Data and Innovation at Telefonica, brought the prevailing theme together by discussing how people need to adapt in order to fully benefit from all the changes that happening due to new technologies and Big Data. For instance, Big Data is now being used to help improve businesses, show better ads, and monetize insights. But what about better services from governments? Who is pushing for those services? How many people are pushing for it and how? What about data guardians and data transparency? Jose Luis insightfully pointed out that people tend to go through the following stages: Bliss, Compromise, Drive. Right now, we appear to be in a stage of Compromise when it comes to data. Before we were vaguely unaware of what was happening and how it was being used. Now, we’re in a stage of Compromise in that we are allowing our data to be tracked and monitored in exchange for services like easy social networking (Facebook) or easy access to information (Google). Jose Luis argues that it’s time we enter the Drive phase. He wants people to clamor for open and transparent data handling in order to foster an equally open and transparent society because Big Data isn’t just about technology, it’s also about doing the right thing for people. And it’s that very switch to Drive and a shift in mindset from technology to people that will requires thinking differently.

The IE Big Data Club wants to thank everyone who made it out for the event. There was a great turn out with possibilities for networking and asking questions in an informal setting afterwards where people interested in the possibilities of big data and the world of the future could discuss the ideas presented in the workshop.

We’re excited at the great turnout and are already planning our next event!

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