Take a fresh look at big data in 2015

Using data as a force for good.
By Craig Boundy
07:18 PM

Big data received a lot of press coverage in 2014; unfortunately, it wasn’t all kind. That’s too bad; because it’s not fair to lay the blame for every security lapse or e-mail misdeed squarely on big data.

The truth is that some of the very technologies that are considered big data are in fact the same ones that best protect us from abuse.

Like most technologies, big data can be used for good or it can be abused. However, I believe that the good that big data brings far outweighs any accompanying risks. While data security begins with common sense, and we must all deploy data security best practices, we should also appreciate the value in what big data offers.

Identity verification and transaction validation rely on the massive power of big data. It is big data initiatives that safeguard more than 5.5 billion transaction events annually. When managed appropriately – and in compliance with existing laws and regulations regarding privacy – data is a force for good.

At Experian we see the use of data for good every day. We see how big data is being used to serve more than 2,800 hospitals and thousands of medical practitioners. It is data processes that verify patient identities and conditions when they arrive for treatment. Additionally, by making sure patients are who they say they are, data processes verify coverage and help care-providers prevent fraud. In many cases, these systems alert patients to eligibility for aid that they were not even aware of they were entitled.

Fraud prevention is particularly important in an age of electronic medical records. A combination of technology advances and recent healthcare reforms have made patient data available online to pharmacies, hospitals and labs, and patients themselves. According to a survey by the Ponemon Institute, 72 percent of healthcare organizations indicated they are only “somewhat confident” or “not confident” in the security of electronic patient data. Further, Ponemon expects that the cost of breaches could reach $5.6 billion in 2015.

This is why healthcare providers are using big data to safeguard patient records by adopting identity theft protection platforms and device verification technologies – the same security mechanisms used by banks. These safeguards are possible thanks to the power of big data. It is what gives us the ability to sift through large amounts of data, find patterns and distill the insight that allows us to make better decisions, improve our business processes and ultimately, drive our economy forward.

Across the country big data technology, along with analytical and consultative services, help financial institutions and businesses in all industries derive insight, which ultimately enables them to make more sound lending decisions, better manage their credit portfolios and acquire the best customers. It is the insight brought by big data that is allowing millions of renters to obtain their first lines of credit. For example, by collecting and analyzing on-time rental payments, more people are building the credit histories necessary for financial and economic inclusion.

These uses of data for good are stories I hope to see better publicized in the year ahead. There are examples from coast to coast. Like at the National Institutes of Health, as part of its “BD2K” (Big Data to Knowledge) initiative, which allows physicians to analyze patient data and vast healthcare histories databanks to determine which patients may be at greater risk of developing conditions such as diabetes or heart disease; or in Kansas City, where researchers are maximizing the productivity of their lands by studying detailed soil data.

And in Indiana, where the state government is analyzing population data to prioritize funding for the most effective programs, including those that reduce infant mortality rates.

Yes; we must continue to carefully safeguard our sensitive information. Yet we must also recognize that there will always be those looking to exploit any vulnerability. There comes a point where we must decide whether to embrace the benefit that comes from the power of information or allow the cynics to constrain the innovation and limit its potential.

It’s unrealistic to imagine that we will stop relying on big data processing. Our financial systems, healthcare systems, and scientific advancement rely on it. Rather, our focus should be on how we protect our data.

So yes, big data is good. The responsible, smart and compliant use of big data benefits people, our society and our economy. In 2015, let’s resolve to not paint big data with such a broad brush. It is my hope that in this New Year, more people will come to recognize ways to use data for good.

Craig Boundy is CEO of Experian North America.