March 2014

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Yes, we want to ‘own’ your data too…

and here’s why

Rav Panchalingam

Rav Panchalingam,
Director of Research & Development,

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I have a fascination for Nike Air Jordan shoes. They’re an iconic product of the USA, but so darn expensive and difficult to buy all the way over here in the lost side of the world, Australia. Perhaps it’s because they’re so inaccessible to get here, that I want them so bad! I usually import them myself using my trusted advisor eBay.

It’s fairly safe to say that once those shoes arrive as a parcel on my doorstep, they’re owned by me. It’s a tangible product that I can hold in my hand, and I’ve made some transaction which transfers ownership of that item to me.

So what about all the hundreds, if not thousands, of logistic data transactions that occurred in getting that shoe from the retailer in USA, all the way to my house in Australia.

What about the data collected by eBay about that purchase I made, and the prior searches that led to that purchase?

What about the data analytics conducted by PayPal in relation to my most recent transactions leading up to that purchase?

Do you believe that you own all that data? Do you even have access to viewing that data if you wanted to? Do you feel concerned and angry that this data is being collected without your full verbal and / or written consent? Do you lie awake in bed at night, with the tin foil hat on your head to prevent the government from prying into your brain?

The truth, and somewhat harsh reality is this; if modern enterprises had not made the conscious decision to pillage you of your invisible kilobytes, then the world as we know it would not be as easy and convenient as it is now. I would be forced into the habit of wearing Crocs (see to work, and that horrific scenario leaves everyone with an unpleasant visual.

Enterprises need access to your data in order to make your life simpler. The aggregation of data from multiple sources assists enterprise in producing bigger, better things. All the great new products and services that are available at your fingertips are there because someone, somewhere took your data - and used it effectively.

Before we go further, let’s clarify on the term ‘own’ because it seems to be unfairly thrown around alot in a negative context. By definition, to own is to have or hold possession over, and claim responsibility and authority for. When people hear that their data is being owned by a  service provider, the immediate assumption is that the provider claims sole ownership over this data - however that’s not always the case. Ownership does have to be (what us software geeks in the database design world refer to as) a one-to-one relationship, it can be one-to-many. Sure your service provider may claim ownership of your data, but that’s not to say that you too can’t claim ownership on that same data, and rightfully you should! To own your data means to have the security and peace-of-mind of accessing that data to view at anytime, to have it it available at your disposal and not run the risk of someone taking it away from you. To have a service provider also claim ownership of that same data reaps you (and the community of users on that platform) the benefits and outcomes of professional services being performed against that data.

Here is an example, to put things in perspective. Joe from upper management has large concerns about the dark magic of cloud computing, and wants to ensure all his energy data is kept safely concealed within their organisation. He contacts Bob from the IT department who says that he can create a ‘super neat’ form inside their (locally hosted of course) Sharepoint platform so that the building manager can digitally record the data readings on the face of their electrical meters as frequently as he likes. Six months on and now Joe has rows upon rows of energy meter reading data within spreadsheets, away from prying eyes, and he can keep track of how much energy they are using from month to month. Nice work Joe from upper management. So now what?

Compare that to a cloud-based service provider (like that also takes ownership of the data being collected. The immediate gains are the tools and services built over time to easily handle all the misdemeanors that can occur during the data collection process. But most importantly, when a service provider grows in their abundance of data available to them from multiple buildings, they gain advantage in scale of what I call the IoV (Insights of Volume). What this means is that the more data available, the more analytics and data mining can be performed in order to produce smarter, relevant and useful insights back to the end-user. A simple example would be “Joe can see that his building ranks as top 5% in energy usage within his area”. A more complex example would be “Joe’s building could save $xxxx by modifying chiller start times to be the same as a similar building, operating in similar weather conditions, on the other side of the country, that uses far less energy” or “Joe we notice that you may have a faulty compressor, would you like us to send out a technician”. The possibilities are limitless.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] There’s a lot of fear-mongering going on in cyber world, and as we move into the age of Big Data the biggest fears being provoked are in alignment with the security and privacy of your data, and it's certainly a qualified fear to be provoked. The question we, as Building Owners and/or HVAC specialists, should ask is ‘how much damage could truly be done if this data were in the wrong hands’. If company X knew how long company Y was keeping their pump in main chiller plant running for, does it really matter? Maybe so, but then to what scale? Of course no building owner wants to open themselves up for public scrutiny if their building is not performing to scratch. However, is it worth causing such a stream of controversy and propaganda when that time and energy could be better spent in actually improving building efficiencies? The point trying to be made here is that, unlike the debate about private and personal information being collected by enterprise, the HVAC data in a building is less likely to be so private and confidential - and in many respects I’d even say that the energy and water consumption data of a commercial building should be considered as public knowledge, if we were really wanting to make a strong push toward creating greener cities.

There are of course many instances of bad data ownership policies being played by service providers as well. 
Here in Australia there is one particular company that comes to mind, who have done a fantastic sales job over recent years, in locking hundreds of businesses into their service where the data is not freely accessible to the customer and if the customer were to leave the service they would lose all that data collected to-date. Services that play to these types of tunes are nothing more than contractual bandits, and should be avoided at all cost. They also give a bad name to the cloud data industry, and provide very little on the IoV scale - despite having so much potential available to them.

In closing words; the amount of data in the world is growing exponentially every day. The value of this data is governed by the professionals who know what to do with it. In many cases, these professionals happen to be the providers of cloud platforms and services and therefore, in order to get the most out of your data experience, you need to be willing to allow them ownership over your data. In saying that, you too need to ensure ownership of your data so as to provide the accessibility and security to that data when needed.

Being willing to grant ownership of your data to service professionals now allows them to build the bigger, better things that will help you operate your business more efficiently tomorrow.

About the Author

I’m the Director of Research and Development for VAE Group, an Australian company with business units in Construction, Asset Management, Mining Oil and Gas, Automation, Commissioning and Service. I’m also the founder of Bitpool. I approach the automation industry through the eyes of a software developer, and it’s been a very exciting experience to-date. Technology is my passion.


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