Friday, January 27, 2017

Coming To Get You: Big Data

"The next ten to twenty years will see the data revolution accelerate. Data will no longer be stored and transmitted via a mobile device - it will be embedded in a chip inside your body!"

This quote comes from the introduction to a document entitled "Every Day #FanEngagement". It was prepared by David Fowler and Geoff Wilson, both experts in sports marketing, and was forwarded to me by David Carson, Professor Emeritus of Marketing at the University of Ulster, along with a message "scary, I think".

Scary indeed. The fan engagement, and we're talking football here (FIFA is a client of Wilson's), will on match day involve, for example, offers being tailored to each fan. But it isn't just match day, there is what occurs the rest of the time. Personalised messages will be sent out as a means of the club seeking to ensure that the stadium sells out; this is just one application.

In actual fact, little of what Fowler and Wilson propose sounds particularly revolutionary or scary. It's the chipping which is, and it's already with us, such as in Australia where people are becoming "super humans" by having microchip implants which enable them to, for instance, dispense with car keys or log into computers with the wave of a hand. With fan engagement the chip acts as a ticket, with payment subject to dynamic pricing, i.e. up-to-date and attractive offers.

One does have to be the willing recipient of a chip. But the day almost seems upon us when it isn't voluntary. Radio frequency identification (RFID) might just become commonplace. Locating someone, though, would only be a part of it; there's all the rest which might follow. That's the scary bit.

For now, the locating, the messaging, the transacting are via mobile technology, which itself is scary enough, if users willingly indulge it, which many of course do. But whether the chip of the future or the smartphone of the present, the technology that has fallen into the hands of the marketing people is the manipulation of Big Data.

This has long been with us. In previous times it was basically just stored - warehoused - before the potential for data mining pointed the marketing types in the direction of their ultimate wet dream: total personalisation and customisation drawing on all the data which customers supply. Who they are, where they are, why they are where they are, how they got there, what they're doing there, when they go there. Big Data answers all these questions and then supplies further answers. And customers, via smartphones which might as well be implanted because of customers' attachment to them, become willing recipients of everything marketing departments want them to be.

Tourism is fertile territory for Big Data. Hotels, tour operators, travel agencies - they are all engaged in the rush to add ever bigger data and exploit it. But it isn't only business, it's countries as well. Álvaro Nadal, one of two egghead brothers in the upper echelons of the Spanish government, is the minister for tourism and the digital agenda. Nadal is a rare breed of politician in that he knows his subject to the extent that he probably knows more than those who advise him. The ministerial coalition of his portfolio is absolutely no coincidence: the digital agenda is driving tourism, and digital increasingly means Big Data.

Nadal is introducing a system which will generate data on tourists via their mobiles. Essentially, this is in order to gather improved knowledge about aspects of tourist behaviour in the sense of where they are and their movements; all of this being within a framework to enhance national tourism competitiveness. But it is Big Data use by tourism businesses which will be more evident to tourists: more evident and more intrusive.

The Future Foundation (now known as Foresight Factory) produced a report for the World Travel & Tourism Council which set out key issues. A conclusion was that the data required could well cross the boundary of acceptability. While the report identified benefits and different scenarios, including "data savvy reps" who will become data analysts of their customers, it said that there needs to be transparent use of data so that benefits to consumers are perceived as being proportional to all the data being gathered about them.

There should also be a requirement that Big Data can be switched on and off. There will be times when users want information on-demand and other times when they don't wish to be interrupted. And this encapsulates part of the discussion about intrusiveness, another aspect of which is the sheer volume of data held on individuals. It could mostly be mutually beneficial to tourists and businesses, hence why Mallorca's hoteliers and others are pursuing the Big Data route. But what about the stuff which isn't beneficial, and what also about a chip? At least with a phone you can switch it off. Scary.

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