By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
“Use data smartly,” said Matt Wolken, vice president and general manager of information management at Dell Software.
Wolken referenced a story in which Target mined its customer data and then sent coupons aimed at pregnant women to a teenager. The marketing outraged her father who complained. It turns out his daughter was pregnant but he shouldn’t have had to find out about that from Target, Wolken said. Companies need to understand how the data they gather impacts their customers, he said.
He spoke on a panel discussion on big data Monday morning at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network conference at Austin City Limits.
“The bottom line is you have to have a discussion about how you are using your customers data,” said Connie Guglielmo, editor and chief of CNET and the panel’s moderator.
Data used for marketing purposes can narrow a person’s field of vision, said Nuala O’Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology.
She recounted a story about how her six-year-old daughter turned on her e-reader and received books about Barbie.
“We want to see an Internet that is broadening our vision,” O’Connor said.
People need to be concerned and aware of the decisions that are being made about us from data, O’Connor said.
Having a growing and learning algorithm is a good thing, O’Connor said. Amazon does a good job of providing a feedback loop so customers can refine the products being pitched to them, she said.
Data can be a powerful tool, especially in the classroom setting, said Zeynep Young, Founder and CEO of Double Line Partners, which builds big data systems for teachers and schools to improve student performance.
Data is critical for educators to connect with students, she said.
“In the data there were stories you didn’t get to hear even though you are interacting with people face to face,” Young said.
“The data has its own story,” she said.
For example, one teacher noticed that a student was absent every Tuesday afternoon and she wanted to know what was going on. The student burst into tears and said he never knew he would be important enough that someone would notice when he wasn’t present. The kid faced a lot of hardships outside of school and the teacher was able to connect with him and help him.
The story hit home for Young. She was one of those students at risk of falling through the cracks in junior high school. She didn’t speak English as a sixth grader. Her parents moved from Turkey to Texas. Her mother told her to sit in the back of the classroom and if someone spoke to her to just be pleasant and smile. Her teacher called her mom and complained about Zeynep’s behavior in school. She said Zeynep not only didn’t participate but when she scolded her, Zeynep would just smile. The teacher didn’t know that Zeynep didn’t understand English. That data had not gotten to her. That’s a case where personal interactions didn’t tell the full story, Young said.
Kym Houden, executive chairman and founder of Task Retail Technology, says his customers are getting business intelligence information they never had before by mining data.
“You’ve got to think of big data as the biggest opportunity you can possible think of “ said Wolken with Dell. It can empower decisions about your company and customers, he said.
And look at what your competitors are doing, Wolken said. Think about how they are using data, he said.
“Big data is little data about people,” said O’Connor. Think about the real world consequences of using data, she said.
“Just be mindful,” she said.