Sustainable Business Network: Understanding Big Data

Sustainable Business Network: Understanding Big Data

The phrase “big data”–intriguing to some, unsettling to others—is the common business term for the treasure trove of information companies collect and analyze in hopes making informed, strategic decisions. Representatives from Sabre, United Healthcare and a major global telecommunications provider spoke at the University of Dallas’ Sustainable Business Network event on October 20, 2015, about how their specific organizations balance the need for consumer analytics with their customers’ desire for privacy.

“The ‘Big Data’ department is more like a Silicon Valley start-up,” said the director of big data privacy and compliance for the telecommunications company. “Every day is something new. There’s no one to ask and no manual or practice guide.”

The director said that big data leads to predictive analytics and that data on customer behavior can help companies predict future activity, such as the likelihood of customer “churn,” leaving one communications service provider for another. Because of FCC regulations, however, customers of the telecommunications company must “opt-in” to allow the company to collect anything more than basic service data. The director said bringing in data scientists from unregulated fields who aren’t used to the kinds of regulations to which his company must comply is a particular challenge. “They have great ideas,” he said, “but they don’t fit into what a highly-regulated company can do.”

Dorcinda Pipkin, Data Privacy Manager for Sabre, a global travel services company, said that because her company provides the technology which airlines and hotels use to interact with their own customers, Sabre has to be particularly careful about how consumer data is used. “Our goal is to provide our customers [airlines, hotels and travel services] with information on their travelers that allows them to provide their own customers with better service and pricing, “ she said. “Each contract negotiation includes a detailed description of exactly how the end-consumer’s data will be used.”

Andrew Consolver, Vice President of Information Technology for United Healthcare said that big data helps his company fulfill its mission of helping people live healthier lives. “By interacting with patients, medical providers and employers, we can help individuals by using data about what has helped others who have been on the same path. This not only leads to a better quality of life for patients, it reduces medical costs in general,” Consolver said.

Storing mounds of sensitive data is not without its risks. A question from the audience led the panelists into a discussion of the security of PII, or personally identifiable information. Consolver said that data security is a top priority for United Healthcare. “We have refined and increased the focus on security by orders of magnitude in recent years,” he said.

The telecommunications director described internal processes at his company that keep highly sensitive private data secure. “Our external firewall protects us from outside invaders. Having an internal firewall means that we manually monitor the very few, highly-trusted individuals that have access to sensitive data,” he said.

The panelists agreed that although data scientists at their respective companies may present new and innovative ways to cull and analyze customer data, it is ultimately up to the compliance teams to determine whether these activities meet their internal privacy regulations. “We have to ask ourselves,” the telecommunications director said, “’What are the ethical implications of mining this data?’”

The University of Dallas Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is an open forum for building relationships, exchanging best practices, and fostering dialogue around issues of corporate social responsibility, sustainability and eco-innovation, and corporate governance. Hosted by the AACSB-accredited Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas, SBN hosts quarterly events and panel discussions on relevant topics led by recognized industry experts. Click here for information on the next SBN event.

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