This story features in Unearthed: The Age Of Data

From openness to ethics, the issues that swirl around data are vast and varied.

Value not volume
A strong message we get from our customers is that they are simply overloaded with data. A substantial increase in field automation and advances in technology mean they are struggling to use and make sense of its proliferation. Turning it into valuable insights becomes more diœcult, both from the perspectives of computation and timeliness of communication.

We are also seeing challenges with data sovereignty especially with the processing of personal data at a global level. As new data privacy laws are introduced, and countries begin to put constraints around where their citizen data is stored and processed, much greater responsibility is placed on our customers to ensure they know where their data is and how it is being used.

This complexity will only grow. Customers will need to ensure that their solutions for managing data and compliance are able to meet this additional complexity, so they are looking for their partners and suppliers to demonstrate compliance with the new regulations and laws.

We certainly see differences in attitudes towards data within the industries we serve. This includes their willingness to take on risk with new technology as well as how they’re using data.

The importance of openness
Data interoperability is essential for the future success of any industry, and ours is no different. The days of having closed off, proprietary formats are over.

One of the major reasons Seequent has found success has been our philosophy of data openness. We spend a lot of time ensuring that our products are able to import and export information in many different formats. We recognised early on that building up artificial walls to our competitors in the form of a closed file format would mean that ultimately our customers would suffer through an inability to exchange information freely.

Having open standards for data exchange helps promote a healthy ecosystem of innovative products and services that ultimately benefit the customer.

You can witness this data ecosystem developing elsewhere too. For example, it’s exciting to see government organisations increasingly open their non-personal data. The UK’s data.gov.uk site is a great example of how governments can be open about the information they have and let people use it. This openness builds a strong sense of trust and creates a platform that allows everyone to innovate. Hopefully, we will start to see more private organisations participate in this open data society.

Changing attitudes
We certainly see differences in attitudes towards data within the industries we serve. This includes their willingness to take on risk with new technology as well as how they’re using data.

Historically the mining industry has been slow to introduce new operational and information technology into operating mine sites due to several factors like location and technology constraints. Because of these constraints, each mine site would often operate independently from one another, creating data flows, processes and systems specific to their operational needs.

However, we do see the mining industry accelerating its adoption of technology to connect and automate mines. Through investment in better internet infrastructure, mining companies are now able to move their data around more freely and have started introducing more innovative technologies and processes globally, resulting in considerable increases in productivity.

Contrast that to the Civil and Environmental sectors where the desire and capability to adopt new technologies is much higher. These sectors don’t often have the same physical isolation as the mining industry but will likely have a much broader set of groups involved in projects. The focus here comes down to being able to share, collaborate and communicate information effectively across a number of stakeholders.

The Seequent direction
Today at Seequent we are looking at how our technology and the tools of our partners can be utilised to help industries make better decisions about their data. That doesn’t mean that we are building the solutions ourselves, but it is about ensuring that our customers have access to the products and services they need to get that insight, and make decisions faster.

Personal data – why it’s different
On May 25th 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force across Europe – you probably received a few hundred emails about it. Personal data is different to other types of data that a business may hold, principally because a business cannot “own” personal data and the rights of the data subject take precedence over the rights of the business.

Most jurisdictions in the world have some form of data protection or privacy law which gives protection to citizens’ data. An early driver for these laws was the protection of individuals from profiling by state agencies, but with the development of technology in the late twentieth century – and the rise of the internet – the focus has moved to the private sector (in particular social media and digital businesses). Much of the law around personal data is directed at global corporations that analyse huge amounts of personal data for the purposes of selling to or influencing consumers. This is why we see an increase in the reach that new laws such as the GDPR have from a geographic perspective and also with respect to the magnitude of penalties available.

One impact of this is that all organisations, not just the big guys, have to achieve a much higher level of compliance and in some cases that compliance is with multiple, possibly conflicting, regulatory regimes. For organisations like this the key is to focus on “privacy by design” when looking at their customer or HR data management systems (customer and employee data being the two main sets of personal data that most companies hold). Building these systems in a way that helps a business demonstrate the steps it has taken towards compliance will put them in a much better position with respect to regulators and help build customer confidence. This is not that different to making sure your business data is managed securely, but with the key difference that in the case of personal data you have obligations to the data subject as well.