Pollution? Good or Evil? The two sides of big data

The MCA were grateful to EY for hosting the Young MCA on Thursday 14th May for The Data Debate. Approximately 100 consultants from across the industry attended the event as part of the MCA’s Year of Digital, to hear industry experts’ perspectives on data. The session was chaired by Paul Connolly, MCA Think Tank Director.

Panel 1 (L-R): Phani Solomou of EY, Mark Wall of IBM, Paul Connolly, MCA (Chair) and James Walker of Strategy&

In a Question Time format, the debate featured two panels.

The first panel discussed data: fuel of the Digital Age. They considered data as a driver of value and advantage for businesses and consumers and examined the potential for data analytics, when properly targeted, to help businesses understand consumers. Panellists also highlighted data’s internal business management and R&D applications, including how CFOs use real-time information to improve the way they allocate business resources.

In healthcare, data analysis relating to illnesses can help in the development of new drugs. It was suggested that many businesses already possessed the answer to major problems or the basis of innovations within their data sets. The challenge was unlocking this data through targeted analytics. One panellist noted that the proliferation of data in the Digital Age was changing the very way in which people understand the world. In response to a question from the floor about the potential for automated analytics to reduce the number of white collar jobs, the panel agreed that certain analytic capabilities would be disintermediated, but that this could free up human capacity for other activities or create new skills challenges.

Ownership of data divided the audience. One member asked, “Are we customers or products of Facebook?” Whilst half of the audience felt that there was a need for government regulation to ensure that citizens own their data, the other half were less worried about the issue. One panellist suggested that the telecommunications industry may be better placed than the government to broker better arrangements between business and citizens on the management of personal information.

Sli.do polling at the end of the session revealed that 59% of consultants were already using data analytics in their engagements and 68% felt that consulting would not be able to survive without it.

Panel 2 (L-R): Mark Brown, Cyber Security& Resilience at EY, Martin Tully of KPMG, Paul Connolly, MCA (Chair) and Robin Oldham of BAE Systems

The second panel discussed data: pollutant of the Digital Age, focusing particularly on cyber security risks. They distinguished four categories of threat:

  • Activists who hack to be noticed and get recognition for their cause
  • Criminals who hack for financial rewards
  • Espionage, where countries hack for economic or military gains
  • Ill-informed employees who misuse data (deemed the most dangerous)

Panellists agreed that it is impossible to achieve 100% protection from hackers, not least as the criminal groups and governments carrying out attacks or exploiting data negligence are extremely well organised. A client company of one panellist had been hacked for 8 and half years without their knowledge. The essential thing was to be cyber resilient, able to manage and withstand an attack.

When asked what the future holds for consultants in cyber security, Mark Brown, Executive Director at EY, noted that EU General Data Protection Regulation, which is expected to come into force late 2017/early 2018 will raise the fines that companies face for negligence in protecting personal data to a maximum of 5% of global turnover, capped at 100 million Euros.  This could lead to significantly more  investment from firms on their data security, with potential benefits for the consulting industry.

The polls also found that 62% of attendees had been victims of cyber-crime, while 11% believed they had the skills to carry out a cyberattack.

Written by Jacob Roche, Consultant at Mott Macdonald, for the Young MCA Update, as part of the MCA Year of Digital