PEOPLE | Nov 14, 2017

How has the datum changed? Interview with Francesco Bonfiglio

In the post-Big Data era, less data but more correct and useful

“Technology – begins Francesco Bonfiglio, Managing Director of Engineering D.HUB  – has become sensorial. In our smartphone, in our car, in the world that surrounds us, sensors (and the information they collect and provide) are now perceived as extensions of ourselves, to the extent that their absence gives us a sensation of isolation. The information we are used to managing is a set of data collected by the systems and sensors of our devices or that underlie services provided by third parties. The lack of a webcam in the place we would like to visit or of GPS cover where we find ourselves actually creates discomfort, as if the lack of real and contextual information has made us partially blind, deaf and immobile. This kind of reaction will make humans increasingly dependent on sensors and the quality of their data, useful for elaborating increasingly complex and rapid decision-making processes.”

What does it mean today to talk about data?

“Use of the word datum in computing implies that this is a known element, consciously and explicitly made available, donated and given away. Until recently this was indeed so, but today the meaning should be changed into taken, retrieved or increasingly often stolen, processed and certainly sold.

We are living – finally from my point of view – the post-Big Data era, after years of gathering ever-growing volumes of data and creating ever-more complex rules for their research and correlation in reports that would have a minimum of meaning. Customers (and we in everyday life) are today fully aware that it is more important to collect less data and those that are right (Small Data), which allow us to do our job better. They need to be found wherever they are (identifying the relevant ones and correlating them in the right way) and the meaning understood for using them to accelerate a sales process or reduce the times and execution costs of a process.

This new etymology therefore envisages a paradigm shift: from the separation of services of collection (storage), correlation (business intelligence), comprehension (data science) and processing of suggestions (business process re-engineering, digital marketing, predictive analytics), we move on to creating increasingly integrated services which, starting from data collection on a platform in cloud, can make the processing of final information directly available in the form of micro-services, minimizing the exchange of flows and reports with large volumes but little value.”

What is the value of information in real time? And what are the implications for the quality of the datum?

“Once there were so-called Business Critical applications, because in the event of a failure, they would have compromised operation of a company’s core business. Today, the digitizing of processes makes it necessary for each component or service to be up and running 24 hours a day for 7 days a week, with availability close to 100% and data always updated in real time.

The cost of downtime is no longer something that can be offset by an SLA (Service Level Agreement) and penalties of the supplier. Today, the technology underlying business has a direct impact on this, so much so that a technological stoppage translates into a block on business.

The impacts range from economic loss to loss of contracts, customers, market share, reputation and competitiveness. Business Continuity should not therefore be applied indifferently to all technological infrastructures, but weighted (moreover reducing costs), starting with business processes and calculating their impact and sustainability.

Likewise, the concept of disaster in the approach to Disaster Recovery, is no longer just of a natural calamity but of any possible event (from an excavator that cuts a cable to the stoppage of power supply or other) that can lead to a disruption in business sufficient to cause damage.

What happens if our business remains stopped for 1 minute? And for an hour? And for a day? Thinking about a bank, airport, subway or aqueduct rather than a supermarket or a hospital it will be easy to understand that the impact of a stoppage, even of just a few minutes, creates millions of dollars’ worth of damage and can jeopardize the safety and security of citizens.

If we talk about the perception of datum quality, we can say that this is more important today than the goodness of the datum itself. For example, it is more important to have a weather forecast updated in real time and specific for the place in which I find myself than a datum recorded by the nearest weather station with precision equipment.”

What is the relationship between security and data?

“The concept of security with respect to the datum has changed over the years: from a set of instruments and procedures needed to ensure the robustness of data management infrastructures to the inherent characteristic of the datum.  Just think of Blockchain or example, and how this algorithm will intrinsically ensure the security of commercial and economic transactions which now use instruments, documents, processes and public and private institutions to guarantee the security and truthfulness of the datum.

A datum is no longer secure only if stored in a secure infrastructure but also if intrinsically true (real), inviolable, reliable and protected against improper use by anyone who is not legally its holder or in charge of processing.

The dimensions of datum security therefore become manifold: from identity to control, regulatory compliance, distribution for example in a social media context and its monetization for economic purposes. The new generation of security services we are working on responds to all of these dimensions in a holistic key, combining physical security (safety), logic (cyber), design methods (built-in vs. bolt-on security), instruments (SoC) and regulatory compliance in a consultative and proactive approach aimed at creating secure services and data, which are a guarantee of competitiveness.”

What future awaits us?

“In a world increasingly controlled by physical and logical automata, which fulfill all those processes that were previously human, we need to ask ourselves new questions: who will be the users? How will we negotiate with a purchasing department managed by a robot? What will be sensitive information for a robot? What will be the marketing and communication mechanisms that will allow you to place one product better than another in front of a robotic client? 

The use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) is now a fact. Behind our purchase on Amazon we have ML (Machine Learning) engines that know our spending habits and those of people like us and which, without us realizing, lead us to the choice we make, making us look all in all small with a virtual ‘showcase’ cropped exactly round our tastes which actually has millions of articles which we would otherwise go crazy taking a look at.

More important is the bond of trust that is now being created between the person and machine, search algorithms and digital assistants. While the relationship between humans becomes increasingly rarefied and disintermediated by means of communication and collaboration (tweets, posts, chats), the relationship with a Digital Assistant or ChatBot immediately creates confidence in the absolute fairness of treatment, education and quality of service which that synthetic assistant can give us without risking having to deal with a lazy, incompetent or even unhelpful help desk operator.

A new digital relationship psychology is being born and it is all to be explored. It will be difficult, or rather useless, to try and force robots to use the rules of humans and it will also be necessary to rethink the rules and processes and security of data fit for this new world.