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The WestJetter propelling an airline into the future

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Digital Disruption is commonplace these days. It occurs so frequently that when it happens it’s not as impressive as it once was. However, it’s an incessant reminder to the C-suite of many traditional organizations of the need to transform in order to keep pace with a market that is unpredictable and in an environment that is far from stable.

Alfredo C. Tan, the newly-minted Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at WestJet, has been tasked with driving this new direction for the Canadian airline as it moves to become a global success story. In just two decades, WestJet established more than 13,000 employees, over 100 destinations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe and an additional 175 destinations in over 20 countries through partnerships.

As with almost all industries, the global tourism and travel landscape has witnessed significant changes. This $7.6 trillion sector has seen a pronounced shift in its business model, in part because of disruptors like Airbnb and Uber. The airline industry will not be immune. Crippled by legacy operations and heavy regulation, the desire to transform is not a feat that is surmountable in a short period of time.

This 2017 report published by the Centre for Aviation acknowledged these changes:

Above any other industry, airlines are captured within an arcane regulatory framework designed 70 years ago, and whose purpose was to achieve little else than protect against new entry. It is a capital intensive heavily unionized industry, and it is dominated by legacy models still focused on buying and flying expensive metal. But at its heart the airline offering is just another consumer retail product. As such, it is just as susceptible to upheaval… The airline industry as we know it will be unrecognizable by 2025, as fundamental features are uprooted. The process will be accelerated because of the confluence of disruption in each of the key aspects of commercial aviation: flying and selling.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Alfredo C. Tan to explore his journey to WestJet and his vision to instigate some necessary upheaval in an already accomplished organization.

Obsessed to Join the Movement to Empower the Internet Generation

Alfredo remembers Cisco Systems “Empowering the Internet Generation” commercials. The powerful message depicted a world transformed by this eventual connectivity across networks and markets. As a student of forensic science and biology at the time, he felt he had missed the opportunity to be part of this incredible wave of dot.com companies being born.

When he graduated, he read an article in Fortune Magazine about top business school graduates turning down blue chip companies to go chase the new Gold Rush in Silicon Valley. Not one to let another opportunity go by, Alfredo learned how to code and immersed himself in computer and technical courses. Soon he landed at Bell Nexia in Systems Engineering and Design where he eventually led a team of engineers to help restore connectivity between telcos in NYC and Toronto during the World Trade Centre disaster. Along the way, Alfredo had looked to mentors willing to teach him:

Most things in the professional world you can excel at without a formal education in that field. With enough mentorship, intellectual curiosity, aptitude, grit and passion you can find success almost anywhere.

Whether it was Bell Canada where he learned to build large scale strategic alliances, enterprise marketing and strategy, or at MSN.ca where he was introduced to the disruptive world of online advertising, media sales and internet marketing, or at Yahoo! Inc. working on Mobile, Search, and corporate partnerships, Alfredo’s journey exemplified this learning mantra throughout his career.

Facebook: The Platform that Changed Everything

If you could see the future and know within a decade your company has just entered the S&P500, you would not hesitate to join. In 2008, this was hardly evident, and Alfredo grappled with the decision to leave an amazing job with endless opportunities within a company that was still an internet powerhouse for a social network that was perceived to be overvalued, had no clear monetization strategy, no real market differentiator and one that could have easily gone by the wayside like MySpace or Friendster. The defining moment for him came when he returned from a trip in 2008. As he remembers,

Before I returned from a trip in 2007, I exchanged email addresses among those I had just met. And by the time I went on a trip in 2008, everyone exchanged ONLY Facebook IDs. Within 12 months the movement from email to Facebook was unreal. What Facebook was really building was identity at scale. What it really has is people – 2.2 billion people. And as it continues to grow, it continues to be unassailable.

He chose to venture to Facebook despite all the guidance and advice otherwise. He remained there for 8 years, where he spent the last two years working with the leadership teams in the high growth markets of South East Asia and Latin America. The learnings were life changing and career defining.

Why Can’t Traditional Businesses Adapt to Market Changes?

For all the gains Facebook and social networks have made globally, business has still not fully embraced the changes required to keep pace with the dynamic market.

Alfredo points to disruptors like Google, Netflix, Facebook, Microsoft, Uber, Apple and Amazon. These companies have a different way of building their innovation culture. What’s common among them?

  1. They move with a sense of urgency
  2. They worship velocity
  3. They are unafraid of change

This is a polarized view of how traditional companies operate.

As the Chief Digital and Innovation Officer of WestJet, Alfredo’s experiences make him ripe for the challenge ahead. WestJet recognizes the need for change and a culture that supports the changes required. As a traditional company, it behaves much differently than the environments Alfredo was used to. Coming from the tech space, there is a common understanding, a common way of thinking because technology isn’t something you need to convince people to invest in.

It’s hard-coded in the DNA of the company.

In most traditional companies digital is not foundational to the success of the company. Success comes from other practices within the organization. The challenge becomes convincing a group of people in a company to invest in what you believe to be true.

Alfredo would argue the majority of leaders and employees understand the world has dramatically changed but it’s not clear how digital could be a competitive advantage. There’s a process in education and winning the hearts and minds of people to “believe it before they see it”. The executives were sold on change as the new normal at WestJet. Alfredo was inspired by the genuine interest and motivation by the employees to make this a reality.

WestJet’s First Ever Hackathon

WestJet

#HackintheHangar

Thinking differently takes time. You can’t make the assumption that people understand simply by saying. Just as he continues to learn about an infinitely complex industry, Alfredo and his team, in turn, need to educate and tell the story in a way that helps the entire company understand the impact of digital and innovation on the business, without the jargon and without the hype.

This came to fruition soon enough. WestJet’s VP of Loyalty, d’Arcy Monaghan and Rhonda Reynolds, Product Development Manager, approached Alfredo about developing solutions for the premium traveler, which could then trickle down to all of WestJet’s guests. Alfredo had only been in the job a few weeks and didn’t feel he and his already-constrained team were in a position to solve the problem on their own.

While the original idea was to hold a brainstorm among a group of people from various departments, it quickly morphed to include some of Alfredo’s friends from the tech industry. As more people heard about it, the more they wanted to participate. The kernel grew into this idea of a full day hackathon, a competition to develop a seamless premium guest experience and #HackInTheHangar was born.

Alfredo invited some of the biggest tech companies and systems integrators like Adobe, Facebook, Amazon, Deloitte Digital, Google, Panasonic Avionics, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Hootsuite, IBM, Salesforce, Huge Inc. In all, 17 companies and their 120 people from technical, creative and design backgrounds were paired with 37 WestJetters and a dozen of WestJet’s premium travelers to participate in this one-day event. As Alfredo points out:

The initial, very simple idea gave birth to this movement in the company which aimed to answer a few key questions:

  • How can we show 13,000 people that we can solve problems in a different way and co-create new experiences?  
  • More importantly, at a greater velocity: 
    • How do we get non-technical people to solve problems in a hack culture? 
    • How do we gain the respect of the global tech community to be be inspired and partner with us in our digital and innovation mandate and co-create the future of travel? 
    • How do I win the support from key executives in the organization who I would need in order to succeed?

The judges for the event were chosen with care and purpose. The objective was to demonstrate the amazing thinking and solutions that were developed within one day, and to have them understand and evangelize Alfredo’s vision for the company.

The Digital Company that Just Happens to Fly Planes

WestJet

WestJet Plane at the #HackintheHangar

By the end of the day, the executives at WestJet needed little convincing. Louis Saint-Cyr, the Vice President of Guest Experience indicated that airlines with legacy behaviors limit what they can do for the customer. The hackathon revealed WestJet’s need to align with what will be an increasingly digital guest journey. He validated the industry’s current push and pull between innovation and regulation which has produced operating limitations. Despite this, Louis saw huge possibilities:

This hackathon revealed how we can innovate around these structural limitations. How do we digitally empower the front lines and augment soft skills WestJetters are known for with technology to tailor guest experiences?

…Think of the hurdles that go into a customer’s travel journey: the time to get to the airport, the waiting times for bags, the check-in – things that can add stress. By leveraging the emotional framework of social media and aligning it to the guest journey, we can address these hurdles in a direct way to transform air travel for guests.

…Overall, by amalgamating guest profiles with their expectations to what they’re experiencing on board, on the website, and in the airport we can make significant strides in the guest experience.

CEO of WestJet, Ed Sims closed the day and declared that in 24 months, WestJet will be a digital company that happens to fly planes. It sent a signal to the tech community and the leadership team that this hackathon wasn’t just a side project; this will literally be the future of the company.

WestJet’s first hackathon represents a cultural shift toward more innovative thinking at WestJet. We will move fast, learn fast and build fast. We now have an opportunity to do things differently and to innovate in the travel space like has never been done before. Our goal is to have products way ahead of guests’ expectations.” ~Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO

Alfredo’s next steps?

The hackathon and the thinking it surfaced are all theatre and theory until you start to build. We have to build the capabilities that we saw were compelling plus other capabilities we will investigate in the future. Innovation is a cultural mindset more than anything else but it comes from building.

These brilliant ideas will lay the groundwork for developing those capabilities over the next five years. In addition, given the incredible demand to repeat more events after the hackathon WestJet is planning to host an annual event with different themes.

In a short period, the acceptance the hackathon generated, instilled an idea to embed the hack culture into the company as a way of addressing problems and empowering cross-functional groups to self-organize and invent solutions in a confined period of time.

We’ll find a way to make it pervasive in the organization so a flight crew member who wants to fix a process can gather a group of people to create a solution then present that for budget approval in a matter of days. It’s bringing the hackathon to smaller scale, smaller team sizes, with less fanfare. Hopefully, that will influence 13,000 people to start to think this way.

We are just getting started… In the end, I would have failed in my job if I was the only one responsible for the digital and innovation culture. It’s for all WestJetters to embrace it and the future.

For someone whose mantra is to be curious and continue learning, Alfredo C. Tan, in the first 90 days, has pushed the organization to think differently, learn new ways of doing things, and challenge the limits of their imagination.

This article was originally posted to Forbes and was written by Hessie Jones the Cofounder and CMO of Salsa AI — a non-profit organization building Artificial Intelligence for everyone. 

Hessie Jones is the Founder of ArCompany advocating AI readiness, education and the ethical distribution of AI. She is also Cofounder of Salsa AI, distributing AI to the masses. As a seasoned digital strategist, author, tech geek and data junkie, she has spent the last 18 years on the internet at Yahoo!, Aegis Media, CIBC, and Citi, as well as tech startups including Cerebri, OverlayTV and Jugnoo. Hessie saw things change rapidly when search and social started to change the game for advertising and decided to figure out the way new market dynamics would change corporate environments forever: in process, in culture and in mindset. She launched her own business, ArCompany in social intelligence, and now, AI readiness. Through the weekly think tank discussions her team curated, she surfaced the generational divide in this changing technology landscape across a multitude of topics. Hessie is also a regular contributor to Towards Data Science on Medium and Cognitive World publications.

This article solely represents my views and in no way reflects those of DXJournal. Please feel free to contact me h.jones@arcompany.co

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If you’re at IoT World Congress you’ll want to read this

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Sponsored by Cognizant

Planning to attend IoT World Congress 2018, in Barcelona? Good choice. It’s a unique opportunity to learn from IoT experts, network with industry pros, and experience some of the newest IoT solutions first-hand.

It’s a jam-packed three-day event, and if you’re new to the IoT landscape, it can be a bit overwhelming.

To help you level-set before you go, we’ve assembled a series of in-depth white papers, case studies, and overviews that explore many of the topics that will be addressed at the conference.

Consider this your event prep kit with useful pre-reads and context:

How Manufacturers Can Unlock Business Value via IoT Analytics

Using the IoT to streamline processes, and develop a real-time understanding of your business are undoubtedly two of its biggest benefits. But at a more granular level, there’s a vast repository of data that can be mined for additional insights. This articles explains the concept of IoT Analytics, and how its focus on the data at the edge of your network can deliver additional cost savings and revenue generation.

Designing Manufacturing’s Digital Future

The IoT, automation, and AI are already having a transformative effect on manufacturing. Compiled survey responses from 500 senior manufacturing executives shine light on what these effects have been to-date, and what they’re expected to be in the near and long terms. Challenges exist, and costs aren’t negligible, but there’s no doubt that digital technologies will have an out-sized transformative effect on the future of how we make everything.

Blockchain in Manufacturing: Enhancing Trust, Cutting Costs and Lubricating Processes across the Value Chain

By now, many have heard of the blockchain and its role in cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin. However the true disruptive power of blockchain has yet to be unleashed. This is a look at the role of blockchain in manufacturing, and shows how businesses that have embraced it are now enjoying a competitive advantage over those that haven’t.

Stepping into the Digital Future with IoT

Looking for real examples of the IoT in action? Here are case-studies from 14 companies, ranging from automotive, to jet propulsion, to healthcare, and agriculture, that illustrate just how powerful digital transformations can be. It captures the challenge, the solutions, and the results so you can compare these scenarios to your current business environment.

Driving the Convergence of the Physical and Digital Worlds

Making a commitment to implement the IoT in your company is just the first step. How much benefit you’ll derive from it will largely depend on how successfully you can integrate this new digital layer into the existing fabric of your business. This short ebook looks at 14 examples of how Cognizant was able to help companies pair their physical and digital worlds in ways that delivered on the promise, while avoiding the pitfalls.

DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.

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Why Big Business Should Proactively Build for Privacy

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This article explores the rise of Privacy by Design (PbD) from the basic framework, to its inclusion in the GDPR, to its application in business practices and infrastructure especially in the wake of Artificial Intelligence.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Ann Cavoukian, former 3-Term Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, and currently Distinguished Expert-in-Residence, leading the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada to discuss this massive shift that will upend current business practices. We’ve also sought responses from top execs from AI start-ups, and enterprise to address the current hurdles and future business implications of Privacy by Design. This article includes contributions from Scott Bennet, a colleague researching privacy and GDPR implications on emerging technology and current business practices.

I call myself an anti-marketer, especially these days. My background has predominantly come from database marketing and the contextualization of data to make more informed decisions to effectively sell people more stuff. The data that I saw, whether it be in banking, loyalty programs, advertising and social platforms — user transactions, digital behaviour, interactions, conversations, profiles — were sewn together to create narratives about individuals and groups, their propensities, their intents and their potential risk to the business.

While it was an established practice to analyze this information in the way that we did, the benefit was largely to businesses and to the detriment of our customers. How we depicted people was based on the data they created, based on our own assumptions that, in turn, informed the analysis and ultimately, created the rules which governed the data and the decisions. Some of these rules unknowingly were baked in unintended bias from experience and factors that perpetuated claims of a specific cluster or population.

While for many years I did not question the methods we used to understand and define audiences, it’s clear that business remained largely unchecked, having used this information freely with little accountability and legal consequence.

As data becomes more paramount and as AI analyzes and surfaces meaning at greater speeds, the danger of perpetuating these biases becomes even more serious and will inflict greater societal divisions if measures are not put in place and relentlessly enforced.

Recently, I met my maker. Call it atonement for the many years I manipulated data as a marketer. We had the honour of talking Privacy with an individual I had admired for years. Dr. Ann Cavoukian, in my view, will drive a discussion across industry that will make business stand up and listen.

Remember when Canada’s Privacy Commissioner took on Facebook?

Ann Cavoukian has been an instrumental force in spreading awareness of Privacy, which brought her front in centre on the world stage, pitted directly against Facebook in 2008. Back then the federal Privacy Commissioner alleged that 22 practices violated the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). This eventually led to an FTC settlement with Facebook that mandated an increased transparency with its users, requiring their explicit consent before “enacting changes that override their privacy settings.”

Ann Cavoukian is a household name in technology and business. As a three-term Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada, she has jettisoned the privacy discussion for a few decades. Today that discussion has reached a fever pitch as the EU General Data Protection and Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect May 25, 2018, includes Cavoukian’s long-advocated creation, Privacy by Design (PbD). This will raise the bar dramatically and any company or platform who does business with the EU, will need to comply with these standards. At the heart of GDPR are these guiding principles when collecting, storing and processing personal consumer information:

  • Lawfulness, fairness and transparency
  • Purpose limitation
  • Data minimization
  • Accuracy
  • Storage limitation
  • Integrity and confidentiality (security)
  • Accountability

Privacy by Design’s premise is to proactively embed privacy at every stage in the creation of new products or services in a way that’s fair and ethical. Cavoukian argues that by implementing PbD, companies would, in effect, be well on their way to complying with the GDPR.

What Makes this Moment Ripe for Privacy by Design?

In the 90’s the web was growing exponentially. Commerce, online applications, and platforms were introducing a new era that would dramatically change business and society. Ann Cavoukian, at this time, was in her first term as Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. She witnessed this phenomenon and was concerned it was going to grow dramatically, and in an era of ubiquitous computing, increasing online connectivity and massive social media, she surmised that privacy needed to be developed as a model of prevention, not one which simply “asked for forgiveness later.”

Imagine going to your doctor, and he tells you that you have some signs of cancer developing and says, “We’ll see if it gets worse and if it does, we’ll send you for some chemo”. What an unthinkable proposition! I want it to be equally unthinkable that you would let privacy harms develop and just wait for the breach, as opposed to preventing them from occurring. That’s what started PbD.

In 2010, at the International Conference of Data Protection Authorities and Privacy Commissioners in Europe, Cavoukian advanced the resolution that PbD should complement regulatory compliance, to mitigate the potential harms. It was unanimously passed. The reason?

Everyone saw this was just the tip of the iceberg in identifying the privacy harms, and we were unable to address all the data breaches and privacy harms that were evading our detection because the sophistication of perpetrators meant that the majority of breaches were remaining largely unknown, unchallenged and unregulated. As a result, PbD became a complement to the current privacy regulation, which was no longer sustainable as the sole method of ensuring future privacy.

These days the issue of data security has gotten equal, if not more, airplay. Cavoukian argues:

When you have an increase in terrorist incidents like San BernadinoCharlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, and in Manchester, the pendulum spins right back to: Forget about privacy — we need security. Of course we need security — but not to the exclusion of privacy!

I always say that Privacy is all about control — personal control relating to the uses of your own data. It’s not about secrecy. It drives me crazy when people say ‘Well, if you have nothing to hide, what’s the problem?’ The problem is that’s NOT what freedom is about. Freedom means YOU get to decide, as a law-abiding citizen, what data you want to disclose and to whom — to the government, to companies, to your employer.

Pew Research conducted an Internet Study post-Snowden to get a consumer pulse on individual privacy. Key findings cited:

There is widespread concern about surveillance by both government and business:
• 91% of adults agreed that consumers had lost control over their personal information;
• 80% of social network users are concerned about third parties accessing their data;
• 80% of adults agreed that Americans should be concerned about government surveillance.

Context is Key:

And while there are those who understand they are trading their information for an expectation of value, they should be fully informed of how that value is extracted from their data. Cavoukian cautions:

Privacy is not a religion. If you want to give away your information, be my guest, as long as YOU make the decision to do that. Context is key. What’s sensitive to me may be meaningless to you and vice versa… At social gatherings, even my doctors won’t admit they’re my doctors! That’s how much they protect my privacy. That is truly wonderful! They go to great lengths to protect your personal health information.

The importance of selling the need for privacy includes persistent education. Unless people have been personally affected, many don’t make the connection. Does the average person know the implications of IoT devices picking up the “sweet nothings” they’re saying to their spouse or their children? When they realize it, they usually vehemently object.

Context surfaces the importance of choice. It is no longer an all-or-nothing game subsumed under a company’s terms and conditions where one click, “Accept” automatically gives full permission. Those days are over.

And while some can object to analyzing and contextualization for insurance purposes, they may allow their personal health history to be included in an anonymized manner for research to understand cancers endemic to their particular region.

Context is a matter of choice; freedom of choice is essential to preserving our freedom.

Privacy Does Not Equal Secrecy

Cavoukian emphasizes that privacy is not about having something to hide. Everyone has spheres of personal information that are very sensitive to them, which they may or may not wish to disclose them.

You must have the choice. You have to be the one to make the decision. That’s why the issue of personal control is so important.

I extracted this slide from Ann Cavoukian’s recent presentation:

The <ahref=”https://www.wired.co.uk/article/china-social-credit” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener noreferrer noopener”>Chinese Social Credit System was created to develop more transparency and improve trustworthiness among its citizens. It’s a dystopia we do not want. China is a clear surveillance society that contradicts free society’s values. Cavoukian crystalizes the notion that privacy forms the foundation of our freedom. If you value freedom, you value privacy.

Look at Germany. It’s no accident that Germany is the leading privacy and data protection country in the world. It’s no accident they had to endure the abuses of the Third Reich and the complete cessation of their privacy and their freedom. And when that ended, they said, ‘Never again will we allow the state to strip us of our privacy — of our freedom!’ And they have literally stood by that.

Post-Snowden, I wrote this: The NSA, Privacy and the Blatant Realization: Nothing You Do Online is Private and referenced a paragraph written by Writynga in his response to Zuckerberg’s view at the time 2012 that privacy was no longer a social norm:

We like to say that we grew up with the Internet, thus we think that the Internet is all grown up. But it’s not. What is intimacy without privacy? What is a democracy without privacy?…Technology makes people stupid. It can blind you to what your underlying values are and need to be. Are we really willing to give away our constitutional and civil liberties that we fought so hard for? People shed blood for this, to not live in a surveillance society. We looked at the Stasi and said, ‘That’s not us.

The will of the people has demanded more transparency.

But we don’t want a state of surveillance that eerily feels like we’re living in a police state. There has to be a balance between ensuring the security of the nation and the containment of our civil liberties.

People will have Full Transparency… Full Control… Anytime

Since the passing of Privacy by Design (PbD) as an international standard in 2010 to complement privacy regulation, PbD has been translated into 40 languages. The approach has been modified to include the premise that efforts to ensure individual privacy can be achieved while developing consumer trust and improved revenue opportunities for business within a Positive Sum paradigm. Cavoukian is convinced this is the practical way forward for business:

We can have privacy and meet business interests, security and public safety … it can’t be an either/or proposition. I think it’s the best way to proceed, in a positive-sum, win/win manner, thereby enabling all parties to gain.

Privacy by Design’s Foundational Principles include:

  1. Proactive not Reactive: preventive not remedial
  2. Privacy as the default setting
  3. Privacy embedded into design
  4. Full functionality: positive sum, not zero-sum
  5. End-to-end security: full lifecycle protection
  6. Visibility and transparency: keep it open
  7. Respect for user privacy: keep it user-centric

Cavoukian contends that Principle #2, Privacy by Default is critical and, of all the foundational principles, is the hardest one since it demands the most investment and effort: with explicit requirements that change how the data is collected, used and disclosed, and will result in data policy and process alterations including new user-centric privacy controls.

Article 21 also states individuals have the “right to object” to the processing of their personal information at any time. This includes for use in direct marketing and profiling:

“The controller shall no longer process the personal data unless the controller demonstrates compelling legitimate grounds for the processing which override the interests, rights, and freedoms of the data subject.”

The business must be more explicit and go much further, beyond the traditional disclosure and terms of service. Purpose specification and use limitation require organizations to be explicit about the information it requires, for what purpose, and must elicit consent specifically for that purpose and that purpose alone. Later on, if a secondary use transpires, the organization will require the user consent once again. If disclosure is key to transparency, businesses will need to find a way to do this while mitigating consent fatigue.

Article 17 suggests a much stronger user right that belies current business practices: The Right to Erasure (“the right to be forgotten”)

The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller the erasure of personal data concerning him or her without undue delay and the controller shall have the obligation to erase personal data without undue delay.

While this statute will have exceptions like data that establishes the data subject as an entity: through health records and banking information, behaviour, transactions, future analysis in profiling, and contextual models are fair game for “the right to be forgotten.” The advent of the GDPR has provided business a glimpse of the potential impacts where companies experienced customer record volumes drop an average of 20% for customers who did not explicitly opt-in.

This is a truly user-centric system. Make no mistake, Privacy by Design will challenge current practices and upend current infrastructures.

This privacy UI simulation (IBM: Journey to Compliance) displays how potential user controls will work in real time and the extent to which the user can grant consent based on different contexts. This level of user access will require a data repository to purge user information, but must be configured with the flexibility to redeploy the data into systems down the road, should the user decide to revert.

 

Can Privacy by Design Create a Positive-Sum Existence for Business?
If you had asked me a year ago, I would have argued that Privacy by Design

is not realistic for business adoption, let alone, acceptance. It will will upend process, structure and policy. However, within the mandate of GDPR this is an inevitability.

We asked Ann Cavoukian to consider business practices today. Both Google and Facebook have received enormous fines in wake of the GDPR to the tune of $9.3 billion. Because of the recent Cambridge Analytica data breach, Facebook is investing millions in tools and resources to minimize future occurrences. It’s recent Q2 stock plummet took the market by surprise but for Zuckerberg, he made it clear they would be taking a performance hit for a few quarters in order to improve the platform for its users… not for its shareholders. While they are a beacon of how companies should behave, this clear “ask forgiveness later” model negated any appearance that this strategy was nothing less than altruistic.

Emily Sharpe, Privacy Policy Manager at Facebook contends that in preparation for the GDPR, they paid particular attention to the Article 29 Working Party’s Transparency Guidance:

We have prepared for the past 18 months to ensure we meet the requirements of the GDPR. We have made our policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their information. In the run up to GDPR we asked people to review key privacy information which was written in plain language, as well as make choices on three important topics. Our approach complies with the law, follows recommendations from privacy and design experts, and is designed to help people understand how the technology works and their choices.

Cavoukian pointed to a study by IBM with the Ponemon Institutethat brought awareness to the cost of data breaches: It reports that the global average cost of a data breach is up 6.4 percent over the previous year to $3.86 million per incident. On a per record basis, the average cost for each record lost rose by 4.8% to $148. As Cavoukian points out, these costs will continue to rise if you maintain Personally Identifiable Information (PII) at rest.

The PbD solution requires a full end-to-end solution which includes both privacy and security:

  1. IT systems;
  2. accountable business practices; and
  3. networked infrastructure.

How Do You Address the Advertisers Who Successfully Monetize Data Today?

What do you say to advertisers and publishing platforms who play in this $560-billion industry? We can’t stop progress. The more data out there, the more demand from willing buyers to extract meaning from it. On the other hand, given the fallout from Facebook, some advertisers have been grey or black listed from advertising on the platform because of questionable practices or content. The platform changes have also significantly curbed ad reach opportunities for current advertisers. This domino effect is now compounded with mandates from GDPR to garner explicit consent and create greater transparency of data use. Ann Cavoukian said this:

The value of data is enormous. I’m sorry but advertising companies can’t assume they can do anything they want with people’s data anymore. I sympathize with them. I really do; their business model will change dramatically. And that is hard to take so I genuinely feel bad for them. But my advice is: that business model is dying so you have to find a way to transform this so you involve your customers, engage them in a consensual model where benefits will accrue to customers as well. Context is key. Give individuals the choice to control their information and gain their consent to exchange it for something they value from you.

Mary Meeker’s “Paradox of Privacy” points to the consumer’s increasing demand for products and services that are faster, easy, convenient and affordable. This requires systems that can leverage personal information to make this a reality for the consumer. Increased customization is the expectation but brings with it increased business risk. As long as current business practices persist, according to Cavoukian, it leaves their business vulnerable to, as we’ve witnessed, incessant data breaches and cyber attacks. Equifax and Target are two cases in point.

Communication with the data subject needs to be a win/win (positive sum). Can the business provide the necessary value, while respecting the choices dictated by the individual? When AI becomes more pervasive this will become even more challenging as streaming data will require more real-time interfaces and applications that allow access and individual configuration of data types across various contexts and vertical uses.

I asked a few executives from various data start-ups and from established enterprise businesses, who have had considerable business to consumer experience from advertising to social technology to network platforms, to weigh in on the privacy debate:

Josh Sutton, CEO of Agorai, was also former Global Head for Data and AI at Publicis.Sapient. In an advertising industry which drives hundreds of millions in revenue, the quest to build consumer relevance comes at a cost. This proliferates as more companies look to artificial intelligence to drive precision:

Data is clearly one of the most valuable assets in the world today — especially with the growing importance of artificial intelligence (AI) which relies on massive amounts of data. Data privacy needs to be incorporated into the fabric of how these technologies work in order for society to get the most benefit from AI. To me, data privacy means having the ability to control when and why data that you own is used — not the ability to keep it secret which is a far easier task. For that to happen, there needs to be open and transparent marketplaces where people and companies can sell data that they create, as well as a consistent set of regulations for how companies can use data.

Dr. Nitin Mayande, PhD, Chief Scientist of Tellagence, and former Data Scientist at Nike concurs with Josh Sutton. Nitin had been studying social network behavior for years and understands the need to transform current approaches:

Sooner or later I envision a data marketplace — a supply side and a demand side. Today, companies leverage data at the user’s expense and monetize it. The end user does not experience any real economic benefit. Imagine a time when data becomes so valuable the individual can have full control and become the purveyor of his/her own information.

For Dana Toering, Chief Revenue Officer at Yroo and former Managing Director at Adobe Advertising Cloud, his career saw the emergence of ad platforms, which heavily relied on treasure troves of data to gain increasing granularity for ad targeting:

As an entire ecosystem I feel we are just now coming to terms with the evolution of value exchange that was established between end users and digital publishers and software developers starting in October 1994 when Hotwired.com ran the internet’s first banner ad. The monetization of audiences through advertising and wide-spread data harvesting of the same audiences in exchange for ‘free’ content or software has enabled the meteoric growth of the internet and the businesses that are built around it but has also enabled massive amounts of fraud and nefarious activity. Thankfully we are at a tipping point where corporations/brands and users alike are taking back data ownership and demanding transparency, as well as consent and accountability. Defining and managing the core tenets of this value exchange will become even more important (and complex) in the future with the rise of new technologies and associated tools. So the time is now to get it right so both businesses and users can benefit long term.

I have had curious discussions with Dr. Sukant Khurana, Scientist heading the Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, and Neurophysiology laboratory at CSIR-CDRI, India. As an entrepreneur also working on various disruptive projects, he had this to say, echoing the above sentiments:

The debate between privacy and security is a misleading one, as the kind and amount of data shared with private companies and the government need not and should not be the same. AI has been vilified in data privacy issues but the same technology (especially the upcoming metalearning approaches) can be used to ensure safety while preventing unwanted marketing and surveillance. If the monitoring tools (by design) were made incapable of reporting the data to authorities, unless there was a clear security threat, such situation would be like having nearly perfect privacy. It is technologically possible. Also, we need to merge privacy with profits, such that by and large, companies are not at odds with the regulatory authorities. This means there needs to be smarter media and social platforms, which present more choices for data sharing, choices that are acceptable between the end customer and the platforms.

Alfredo C. Tan, Industry Professor, DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University has extensive experience on B2C advertising platforms, and understands the need for fair exchange, baked in trust:

If there was better control and understanding of how personal data is being used, I believe people would be willing to be more open. The balance is ensuring there is a fair value exchange taking place. In exchange for my data, my experiences become better, if not in the present but in the future. And as long as this is a trusted relationship, and people understand the value exchange then people are open to sharing more and more information. I am happy that Facebook, Amazon, and other platforms are aware that I am a male between 35–45 with specific interests in travel and pets, but no interest in hockey or skateboarding. Or that based on certain movies I watch, Netflix makes recommendation on what other types of content I would be interested in to keep me more entertained. And maybe that data is used elsewhere, with my permission to make experiences better on other platforms. The battle for data in an increasingly competitive consumer landscape is to increase engagement using personalized insight they have gleaned about their customers to ultimately create better experiences. I am certain many people do not want to go back to the anonymous web where all of us are treated largely the same and there was no differentiation in the experience.

Everyone agrees the regression to anonymity is not plausible nor tenable.

Privacy, Security, Trust and Sustainability

This is the future and it’s critical that business and government develop a stance and embrace a different way of thinking. As AI becomes more pervasive, the black box of algorithms will mandate business to develop systems and policies to be vigilant against the potential harms. Cavoukian understands it’s an uphill battle:

When I have these conversations with CEOs, at first they think I’m anti-business and all I want to do is shut them down. It’s the farthest thing from my mind. You have to have businesses operating in a way that will attract customers AND keep their business models operating. That’s the view I think you should take. It has to be a win/win for all parties.

Do you have a data map? I always start there. You need to map how the data flows throughout your organization and determine where you need additional consent. Follow the flow within your organization. This will identify any gaps that may need fixing.

TRUST: it takes years to build… and days to lose…

Perhaps this is the view that companies should take. Ann Cavoukian maintains that those who have implemented PbD say it builds enormous trust. When you have a trusted business relationship with your customers, they’re happy to give you additional consent down the road. They just don’t want the information flowing out to third parties unknown.

I tell companies if you do PbD, shout it from the rooftops. Lead with it. Tell your customers the lengths you’re going to to protect their privacy, and the respect you have for them. They will thank you in so many ways. You’ll gain their continued loyalty, and you’ll attract new opportunity.
I say to companies who see privacy as a negative, saying that it stifles creativity and innovation: ‘It’s the exact opposite: Privacy breeds innovation and prosperity, and it will give you a competitive advantage. It allows you to start with a base of trust, which steadily enhances the growth of your customers and their loyalty. Make it a win/win proposition!

Ann Cavoukian has recently launched Global Privacy and Security by Design: GPSbyDesign.org, an International Council on Global Privacy and Security. For more information on Ann Cavoukian, please go to Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence, at Ryerson University.

This article first appeared on Forbes: Part 1 and Part II.

Hessie Jones is the Founder of ArCompany advocating AI readiness, education and the ethical distribution of AI. She is also Cofounder of Salsa AI, distributing AI to the masses. As a seasoned digital strategist, author, tech geek and data junkie, she has spent the last 18 years on the internet at Yahoo!, Aegis Media, CIBC, and Citi, as well as tech startups including Cerebri, OverlayTV and Jugnoo. Hessie saw things change rapidly when search and social started to change the game for advertising and decided to figure out the way new market dynamics would change corporate environments forever: in process, in culture and in mindset. She launched her own business, ArCompany in social intelligence, and now, AI readiness. Through the weekly think tank discussions her team curated, she surfaced the generational divide in this changing technology landscape across a multitude of topics. Hessie is also a regular contributor to Towards Data Science on Medium and Cognitive World publications.

This article solely represents my views and in no way reflects those of DXJournal. Please feel free to contact me h.jones@arcompany.co

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Agriculture

Growing more with less – Using AI and robotics to grow crops

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Startup Iron Ox has created a fully autonomous farm in San Carlos, California. The hydroponic indoor farm relies on two robots to plant, care for and harvest produce, and by doing so, they grow 30 times more produce than traditional farms.

San Carlos, California-based Iron Ox is a startup company founded in 2015 by Brandon Alexander and Jon Binney. The two founders decided to get into robotic farms after working at a number of other robotics companies. But as Alexander notes, in his stint at Google X, it was more about building cool technologies, rather than how robots could be used. As he told Tech Crunch, “We’d seen lots of novelty robotics stuff and wanted to avoid that.”

The two would-be urban farmers also realized that farming is very hard work. The U.S. alone has more than two million farms with 925,000 people to perform tasks like planting, seeding and inspection, contributing to total production expenses of $350 billion in 2017.

Then, there is the knowledge that agricultural productivity will need to increase by 60 percent in order to feed the world population by 2050. These factors inspired the young company to tap into a database of agricultural and horticultural knowledge, along with robotics, to design an indoor farm of the future.

Today, most of the leafy greens grown in the U.S. are produced in California and Colorado, particularly in the winter months when it’s colder in the rest of the country. So fresh leafy greens are actually two or three days old by the time they reach the supermarket. “That’s why we switched to indoors,” Alexander said. “We can decentralize the farm.”

The ‘robotics-first’ approach

“At Iron Ox, we’ve designed our entire grow process with a robotics-first approach,” Alexander said. “That means not just adding a robot to an existing process, but engineering everything … around our robots.”

In the company’s first 1,000-square-foot farm, which is already in full production, there is a 1,000-pound robot named Angus that can lift and move the large hydroponic boxes in which the produce is growing, and Iron Ox ’s robotic arm for all the fine manipulation tasks, like seeding and transplanting.

With this current setup, Alexander says they can produce about 26,000 plants per year — equivalent to the output of a one-acre outdoor farm. With this system, the farm grows leafy greens such as romaine, butterhead and kale, and herbs like basil, cilantro and chives — using sensors and collision avoidance systems “similar to that of a self-driving car.”

Alexander claimed that Iron Ox is able to do the equivalent of 30 acres of outdoor farming in just a single acre on its robotic farm. The company wants to build more small farms near urban centers so produce is fresher upon arrival. “Right now fresh produce really isn’t all that fresh. It’s traveling on average 2,000 miles from farm to grocery store, which means a lot of people are eating week-old lettuce or strawberries,” Alexander explained

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