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Big Data Means Big Ethical Questions

Big Data Means Big Ethical Questions

“Big data” is a term that occurs regularly in discussions of corporate strategy and analytics, but what is it? “I hate the term ‘big data,’” said Tom Nealand, MBA ’87, Executive Vice President of Strategy & Innovation at Southwest Airlines. “You have to get clarity around what those words really mean if you want to develop a successful organizational structure that can take advantage of the information you’re generating.” Nealand spoke recently as part of the University of Dallas’ TIE expert panel series.
The panel discussion, held on March 18, 2016 and entitled “Executive Decision Making: Analyzing Big Data,” drew a large crowd at the University of Dallas’ Satish and Yasmin Gupta School of Business, due in no small part to the credentials of the panel, which also included Aaron Miri, MBA ’10, Chief Information Officer of Walnut Medical Center; Ellen Barker, MBA ’94, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Texas Instruments; and Rhonda Levene, MBA ’89, Former Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Daymon Worldwide. Mark Ryland, Chief Architect, Worldwide Public Sector Team, Amazon Web Services, moderated the panel.
Ryland attributed the tremendous growth in the sheer amount of data available to analyze to a few “megatrends” that have emerged within the tech industry. “First, storage is basically free,” he said. “There’s never any real reason for a company to delete the data they have collected on their customers. Second, the growth of new tools to analyze data has made it possible to handle a lot of information cheaply. And third, these days, just about everything is instrumental and is throwing off data. This means we are accumulating unprecedented amounts of information.”

But how, exactly, could and should a company use these mountains of data to make decisions? Barker explained that three things about big data make the management of it especially complicated. “Because of the internet of things, we are receiving data from an amazing variety of sources,” she said. “The velocity of data has also increased. And data has volatility. Some data is more valuable in the stream and less valuable as time progresses. Because of all these factors, we have to ask, ‘How do we architect our environment to give our business units the data they need?’”

Levene said her previous experience with Coca Cola and Daymon Worldwide helped her see big data from a consumer, brand-building perspective. “Big data becomes really effective for retailers when it creates consumer pull demand versus retailer pushing demand,” she said. “If handled correctly, it helps retailers correlate their next steps.”

For Miri, careful data analysis can have even greater implications. “In healthcare, data analytics is about saving lives,” he said. “If I can analyze how long it takes a patient to get from the ambulance into triage and then shave minutes off of that time, I can have a great impact on patient care.” Miri said even social media platforms can have an impact on hospitals. “We look at every bit of data. For example, we might look at Twitter for news of how the flu is spreading in the DFW area. That helps us prepare for what might be coming,” he said.

The panel also addressed questions from the audience about the ethics of collecting large amounts of data and then correlating it in a way that could threaten an individual’s privacy. The panelists agreed that even so-called anonymous data can be “de-anonymized” if subjected to a fine-grain analysis. Miri explained that the sequencing of the human genome is an example of how detailed healthcare data can both help and harm a potential patient. “If your genome shows you are at risk for cancer, a health insurance company cannot deny you coverage because of provisions in the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “But life insurers are not part of those regulations. They can deny coverage based on your genomic risk of getting cancer.” While this may seem troubling to a healthcare consumer, Miri added that these ethical situations should not preclude data analysis within the healthcare industry. “We must use the data to push society to get better. That’s the purpose of technology in healthcare. The question is: will people be willing to give up some privacy in order to achieve the end-game of a healthier society?”

Several members of the audience were also interested in how the panelists view the future of data analytics in their roles as employers. One person asked how he could remain relevant as an employee in an industry that changes every day. Nealon emphasized that to be successful, data analysts must emphasize their business skills. “Your business skills, coupled with strong applied mathematics skills, will make you an asset to an employer,” he said. “You must bring up your business intellect. You want to be known as a business person with tech DNA.”

All panelists agreed that the collection, analysis and protection of data is now an integral part of corporate responsibility and is what they called a “board-level” issue. “Proper data governance is a priority for businesses,” Ryland said. “And these emerging questions about how to use the data have become ethical questions as well.”

TIE stands for Transformation, Innovation and Ethics. It is an expert panel series in which alumni leaders host a discussion on transitions and the future of business. The purpose of TIE is to bring together alumni, administration, students and faculty to discuss a rapidly transitioning world and how to innovate and manage that change in an ethical manner. Find out more by visiting UD’s Alumni website.

UD Alumni on the Future of Healthcare

UD Alumni on the Future of Healthcare

University of Dallas alumni distinguished for their work in the healthcare industry addressed questions on September 9, 2015, about the future of healthcare as part of UD’s “Transformation, Innovation and Ethics” series. The panel, led by CHRISTUS Health CEO Ernie Sadau, was composed of physicians and business leaders with unique insights into the challenges facing large hospital systems and individual practitioners alike. “The role of the physician is changing in the U.S.,” said Dr. Brannon Marlowe (BS ’89), an anesthesiologist. “As physicians, we need to learn how to adapt to change in this new system.”

Karin Grantham (MBA ’93), retired Vice President of Global Medical Solutions with Johnson & Johnson agreed: “There are big problems out there that need to be solved and we have to develop partnerships among the constituents involved in healthcare.”

Chief among the topics that panelists said could “keep them up at night” were the implications of the Affordable Care Act. “There are three components to a healthcare system: Cost, quality and access. Pick any two, but you can’t have all three,” said Marlowe. Dr. Irving Prengler (MBA ’00), Chief Medical Officer of Baylor Scott & White, added that, as a physician, he wants everyone to have access to care. “But can we afford to pay for that?” he said. “I don’t know.”

Dr. Donna Sue Dolle (BA ’89), a general internist practicing under a concierge medicine model, said that many of the problems people blame on the Affordable Care Act have been around for a long time. “Ninety percent of our woes were around way before the ACA,” she said.

One area in which panelists had different insights was on the use of technology. Grantham highlighted various innovations in telemedicine and wearable diagnostic technology as advancements that could improve both costs and patient care in the future. The physicians on the panel acknowledged the importance of innovation but stressed the need for face-to-face care as the gold-standard of medicine. “Nothing can replace my ability to look at my patient and to hear my patient directly,” Dolle said.

Prengler agreed that while innovations are exciting, they must be backed by solid outcomes before they can be incorporated in the standard of care. “Telemedicine can’t just be another avenue for a doctor to prescribe antibiotics for a virus,” he said, acknowledging the pressure physicians often feel from patients to prescribe medication when none is actually needed.

Sadau asked the panel in closing, “If you could go back and chose another career, would you?” Despite the challenges each faces in the healthcare industry, all acknowledged that, given the opportunity, they would again choose the same path that led them to healthcare as a career.

The University of Dallas’ Transformation, Innovation and Ethics series is an expert panel series in which alumni leaders host discussions on the future of business. The purpose of TIE is to bring together alumni, administration, students and faculty to discuss a rapidly transitioning world and ways in which to innovate and manage that change in an ethical manner. For more information, click here.

Texas Instruments: A Commitment to Ethics

Texas Instruments: A Commitment to Ethics

According to David Solomon, Vice President and Director of Ethics at Texas Instruments, a respect for history is an important part of the TI culture. From its beginnings as an oil exploration company in the 1930s and throughout its evolution into a $13 billion dollar leader in the technology industry, ethics have also been an integral part of the company’s core values. “What we have behind us is a long history of doing the right thing,” Solomon said, “as well as the momentum to keep doing it.” Solomon spoke on July 24, 2015 to a group of local business leaders on the topic of ethics and compliance as part of the University of Dallas’ Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business Sustainable Business Network event. Texas Instruments hosted over 80 attendees from a variety of local companies, including Oncor, Sabre, PepsiCo, Bell Helicopter, Fidelity Investments, Cucina Antiqua, along with a large cohort from AT&T.

“A true commitment to ethics comes from the top,” Solomon said. “TI’s leaders establish the ‘tone at the top’ by communicating to the entire their own commitment to doing business the right way.” In order to ensure that everyone at Texas Instruments understands the importance of ethical behavior, Solomon travels to TI sites around the world speaking with leaders and employees to help them understand the company’s code of conduct.

In 2015, Texas Instruments was named as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere Magazine for the 9th consecutive year and was named 2nd in Industry on Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list for 12th consecutive year. Solomon believes that TI has achieved these accolades because ethics is a priority for everyone in the company. “We have always had an open door policy at TI,” Solomon said. To reinforce this, the company has established 13 mostly anonymous channels for employees to communicate concerns about ethics or compliance.

Solomon also addressed how an emphasis on ethics affects the company’s global interests. “We want to do business the right way at Texas Instruments. We carry the message around the world–into countries or cultures where employees might be reluctant to report a compliance issue,” he said. According to Solomon, this commitment to ethics helps TI recruit top-quality employees. “Telling our story helps us recruit the right people. They want to work for a good company,” he said.

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. Information on the next SBN event can be found at here.