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BusinessDay: How to harvest data smartly and responsibly

By Johan Steyn, 3 May 2022

We live in a time when businesses can collect previously unimagined amounts of data on their internal operations and, in particular, their digital customer interactions. There are far too many business leaders who have little idea of the value of the data they collect.

Executives must first lay a solid basis for successful data collecting before considering harnessing the ecosystem of smart technologies at their disposal. It is possible to have data-rich dashboards for better decision-making, as well as jobs and activities generated by machines.

These technologies rely on data that is accurate, up-to-date and mature to work. To maximise the value of the vast amounts of data that are often available in most firms, there are several steps executives can take.

To begin, a clearly defined data strategy is required. An investigation of the following issues is a good place to start. What is the goal of the data gathering, and how will it be used to solve any potential problems? Is it clear where or how this information will be obtained? What will happen to the data that has been collected?

Many people are concerned about the security and confidentiality of their personal information. In SA, violators of the Protection of Personal Information Act face 10 years in prison and a R10m fine. Consider who has access to your company’s data and why they do.

A “source-to-source” data collection technique is the most efficient and successful. Employees and customers alike can enter information into a website chatbot or smartphone app. When the original data is altered, it may result in many issues (in the case of written documents that later need to be manually entered into a system by another person).

The information should be accessible to all parties involved in data collection and use. Only the most critical information should be obtained. Inquiring about information that has already been captured will just slow the process down even more.

Make a list of all the data collections that often need to be redone. For example, re-entering the data into a new system or capturing it for the third time. Data can automatically be submitted to various platforms using the source data.

It is important for those who are tasked with capturing the data to think about how they will benefit from doing so. The uptake will be slow if it is seen as yet another administrative duty. Make sure to keep your consumers and front-line workers engaged. Keep your staff in the loop and ask them what kind of data will make their day-to-day work easier. Implementing the data strategy should be done with a focus on effective communications and change management.

The responsible use of data is one of the most important considerations in your data maturity journey. Respect, fairness and transparency are all part of responsible data processing. It entails treating personal information with these three guiding ethical values in mind. People’s privacy and autonomy should be protected, and trust can be built, allowing for the growth of digital innovation for the benefit of all.

Lastly, ensure you employ a diverse team to create and manage the data strategy. One of the most dangerous aspects is bias in data sets. Ensure your team consist of multi-gender staff members from a variety of ethnicity and cultural backgrounds.

• Steyn is chair of the special interest group on artificial intelligence and robotics with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals SA.


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