Data ethics, data culture and the future of advanced analytics were the three themes that dominated CDAO Fall in Boston, MA last week. As Corinium’s flagship conference, the annual event showcases how the world’s top data and analytics leaders are driving change within their organizations and reveals the key talking points for the year ahead.
More than 350 people attended this year’s event, which featured speakers from senior data and analytics leaders from 85 companies including Citi, IBM, Forbes, Kellogg’s and Google.
Data Ethics in the Spotlight
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the question of ethical data use has quickly become ‘front of mind’ in many organizations. A spate of high-profile incidents has served as a reminder that regulatory compliance does not guarantee ethicality. Meanwhile, data leaders are concerned about the impact data bias may have on their algorithms.
“It’s one thing to eliminate clear bias factors from a model,” said Shane Glass, Public Data Lead at Google Cloud. “But there are plenty of other datapoints that are proxies for those – zip code is a great proxy for race.”
“I think that data ethics are actually more important than compliance,” added Dan Costanza, Chief Data Scientist in the investment bank at Citi. “If I go and scrape a bunch of data off the web that’s public data, I’m totally compliant to be able to use that in most contexts.
"But in many cases, I’m going to be doing something with that data that wasn’t the intent of the user.”
Stephen Harris, VP Head of Enterprise Data and Analytics (EDA) at VMWare, addresses the audience at CDAO Fall 2019
“The team needs to be diversified, too,” continued Connie Zhang, US Data and Analytics Officer, Agricultural Bank of China. “Unfortunately, a lot of data people are [of] a similar type.”
Goldman Sachs recently demonstrated the reputational damage a data ethics scandal can cause when it was revealed that women using its Apple Card seem to receive lower credit limits than men.
Forward-thinking data leaders are keen to implement ethical codes of conduct to safeguard their own brands’ reputations against a similar fate.
Enterprises Must Promote Data Literacy
US companies that were quick to embrace data and analytics now generally have the right staff, technology and strategy in place to develop new data-driven capabilities. For these businesses, promoting data literacy and driving organization-wide cultural change has now become a strategic priority.
“How do we meet people where they are and ensure the things that we’re doing are things that they view as valuable?” asked Costanza. “That, to me, is the biggest challenge.”
“We’re studying the impact of all this data on people and about three out of four people are overwhelmed by what they’re being asked to do,” added Jordan Morrow, Global Head of Data Literacy at data platform Qlik. “Our job as leaders is to ensure that the right initiatives are in place.”
“This is a spectrum of skills. Data literacy will not work if you think it’s ‘one size fits all’” – Jordan Morrow, Global Head of Data Literacy, Qlik
Edgar Abreu, VP Data Analytics at financial services company Synchrony, said appointing data and analytics champions within the teams he liaises with has helped spread data culture throughout the company.
“In the past, we would just be an afterthought and we would be brought in at the last minute, which made no sense," he explained. "So, those data and analytics champions would advise us, work with us and tell us when those audits were starting. And basically, by winning them over, they helped us win the rest over.”
Advanced Analytics Set to Go Mainstream
Despite these cultural challenges, this year’s conference speakers were bullish about the future of data. Many expect to see AI and advanced analytics technologies becoming mainstream within 1-3 years.
“We’re going to see a lot more advanced analytics, predictive analytics and robotic process automation,” said Edgar Abreu, VP Data Analytics at financial services company Synchrony. “Once we get into predictive analytics, we’re going to start bringing in a little bit more machine learning.”
“People were aware some years ago that artificial intelligence is coming,” said Jose A Murillo, CAO at banking group Banorte. “Now, people have already incorporated these technologies into their businesses and the early adopters are getting the advantage versus those who are lagging.”
It was clear from the conversations in the conference’s discussion groups that many data leaders are already doing fantastic work with AI and predictive analytics technologies.
As enterprises become increasingly data-centric over the next 12 months, it will be no surprise to see many more success stories start to emerge.
For more insights from America's top data and analytics leaders, download Transformational Data Strategy USA today. With expert commentary from Banorte CAO Jose A Murillo, Publishers Clearing House CAO Ash Dhupar and Rising Stars Foundation CDO Larry Shiller, it's essential reading for anyone who wants to know what's next for data and analytics in the region.