By Zuko Mdwaba, General Manager for SAS South Africa
For years, the conversation around big data and data analytics has been about how businesses can use their information to predict problems before they arise, proactively address the cause of those problems, and end up with a better product, less waste and happier customers.
Data-driven businesses are disrupting entire industries and sprouting ones we didn’t know we needed – and now can’t live without.
Now, through open data initiatives that encourage sharing of information and insights, data analytics is having as big an impact on some of society’s biggest challenges.
In the US, doctors are using analytics to prevent sepsis in patients, saving lives as a result. In New Zealand, the public sector has reduced dependency on the grant system by helping citizens to upskill themselves and find work.
In South Africa, data analytics has the potential to:
- solve our water and electricity challenges
- predict and better treat public health crises and social unrest
- optimise service delivery and resource allocation
- ensure food security and eliminate hunger
- improve equity in education and, therefore, boost economic growth
- reduce corruption and wasteful public sector spending
- address underlying causes of crime and optimise response policies
The applications are endless.
Data for good movement
Every year, Bloomberg hosts the Data for Good Exchange, an annual gathering of data scientists, academia, industry, public sector and NGOs, who share insights and progress on how data can solve societal problems.
This year’s theme was, ‘With great data comes great responsibility’. When we have access to information and insights that could positively impact billions of lives, we owe it to every single one of those people to do something with the information.
Through open data initiatives that encourage the ethical and legal sharing of information, we can build massive datasets using insights from different industries – like results from clinical trials, patient medical history, weather pattern data and records from pharmacies and retailers – to build bigger pictures of the health problems we face and, therefore, get a better understanding of how to address them – before they become problems.
Trust, privacy and data abuse
For these programmes to work, public and private organisations need access to data and analytics solutions that can offer greater speed, frequency, detail, accuracy and information sharing. As these tools become more readily available, we also must mitigate the potential misuse of data. This means balancing the individual’s right to privacy with society’s right to security and safety.
The potential for data abuse and misuse is underlined by a widespread lack of trust among governments, citizens, international organisations and the private sector when it comes to collecting and analysing data.
These concerns can be mitigated by building systems with privacy in mind. Data is often most secure at its source. If we can move the analytics to the data instead of moving the data around to be analysed in multiple, unsecure places, we can help ensure the security and reliability of the data.
This technology should be supported by international norms to oversee data quality, the open sharing of certain types of data, and the protection of data to ensure they aren’t altered by political influence. Clear, robust policy and legal frameworks also must be developed to prevent the misuse of data.
These three areas are emerging as important starting points for large-scale uses of data for good causes.
And now you, too, can join the data for good movement.
GatherIQ is a crowdsourcing effort from SAS that brings together thoughtful, concerned citizens to lend their skills to help answer questions posed by non-government organisations on the frontlines of global challenges.
Every day, massive volumes of data are collected around the world, with the potential to help NGOs address these challenges and change lives. GatherIQ makes information available to a community of volunteers who can use that data for good.
Anyone can make a difference – not just data scientists. The information is presented visually, allowing anyone to access and analyse the data to find patterns by playing around with different scenarios. Think of it as puzzle that requires strategy and different perspectives to solve.
This app brings together the power of SAS software, the talents of everyday problem-solvers like you, and the life-saving causes of non-profits around the world. Simply download the app, choose a GatherIQ project, and you’re part of a community of volunteers who are all digging into data for good.
You can also help raise awareness of the data for good movement by sharing stories on social media or recommending an NGO in need so that we can partner with them to support their cause.
Change the world
Data has tremendous power to bring change and improve the lives of citizens, if used correctly. Almost every interaction we have with our world or with others takes place with a digital interface in between, something that creates data… data that allows us to see things we’ve never seen before. Those insights allow us to better serve communities, efficiently and cost-effectively.
It’s time we started using data for more than deciding what movie to watch next or what book to read, and to make better decisions about the world we want to see.