The Promise of Big Data
Big data not only has the potential to usher in change, but it is already revolutionizing whole industries. Companies are collecting and utilizing data in ways that most of us are just beginning to understand. Some of us have followed stories of social media companies and how they use data. But it’s beyond that now. Televisions have been created that capture what you are saying. Flashlight apps on our phones have accessed your data. On the other hand, some companies have used data to make our lives easier and personalize our experience.
In Matters of Life and Data, Charles D. Morgan takes you on his personal journey from humble beginnings to CEO of First Orion Corp. He serves on numerous boards and notably was the CEO of Acxiom Corporation from 1972 to 2008. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with him about his new memoir and his experience in the world of big data.
The Benefits of Big Data
What is the promise of “big data”? What are some of the benefits we will see from it?
The promise of big data is to help us, in a variety of ways, have a better experience in the world around us. We just returned from New York, where we used Uber numerous times. Uber offers users an extremely convenient experience. There are many other Uber-like tools utilizing massive amounts of data to deliver products and services. In the business setting, our phone systems, internet and other systems are also managed by big data, making these invisible services high-functioning.
The Privacy Challenge
Against these benefits, of course, is our privacy. Privacy seems to be losing the war as we surrender to corporate requirements. What do you see as the challenges ahead for privacy?
Clearly this creates privacy concerns for companies, but my biggest concern is how people manage their own personal data. People will put the most private details on Facebook and other social media applications and think nothing of it. The biggest threat today is identity theft. Since 2005, there have been over 4,700 recorded data breaches compromising the personal online privacy of million of Americans, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. The total number of individual records exposed is over 640 million. People store their passwords, credit card information and more on their smartphones and computers, and I ask why? I also ask people if they have ever had a flashlight app on their phone. When they say that they have and proudly show me, I tell them that the application has accessed all of their data. You would be surprised how quickly they delete it, but the damage has been done. Of course there are many other applications that access data, and many free wifi spots are another easy access point for data theft.
You have had incredible success, but you have said that time management was a struggle. What are some of your tips for managing it all?
Balance is driven by good planning. People focus too often on urgent matters and not the most important matters. Focusing on the right things is critical to managing our personal and professional lives. It is too easy to get distracted when that phone call comes in and someone needs help with an urgent matter. You find yourself distracted from an important project while helping put out the fire. A perfect example of not managing it all is with my current company PrivacyStar, a fast growing mobile technology company. We have several new products in development, product launches underway and major sales transactions all hitting at the same time. Leadership has focused on these things (urgent) instead of focusing on hiring the staff we need to handle these products (important) – we have urgent deadlines to meet and inadequate staffing to do the work.
Culture is Key to Success
Talk about the importance of culture in creating results. You said in the book you never even considered culture until you joined IBM. What’s your view?
Culture is the key to success, getting everyone on the same page with clear communications regarding financial and all other objectives. Clearly leadership’s job is to ensure they have the right people working on the right stuff (i.e. clear communication). People also have to be allowed to fail to achieve good results. You want your team members to focus on their projects and achieving good results without doing the CYA dance, feeling secure in that if they try their best and fail, they won’t be fired. This is a key element for fast growing companies.
What advice would you give to a newly minted graduate intending to be an entrepreneur?
Every young person who approaches me with thoughts of being an entrepreneur is asked these questions:
– Are you doing it to get rich quick?
– Are you serious about your project?
– Where do you see yourself in 10-15 years?
If they answer the last question with a reference to “being rich,” I reply “WRONG” and tell them they should definitely rethink their future, that entrepreneurship is most likely not for them. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must focus on adequately funding your project and have a clear, objective view of the product/service you want to launch. Is it really as cool as you think it is? I also tell them not to plan to bankrupt themselves and their family, but to have a realistic financial plan for success.
What do racing motorcycles, flying jets, and starting businesses have in common?
People automatically say “risk taking,” but I say “measured risk.” In my motorcycle days I was young and foolish, but all of these things you mention require an adventuresome core and one who is willing to play it on the edge. This is a good description of some of the best entrepreneurs I know. Everyone needs a hobby, an all-consuming activity, to give them a different point of view on life. Working 15 hours a day does not give anyone clear focus. Having a hobby, be it racing cars, playing golf, or whatever, results in a fresh perspective.
Matters of Life and Data