Tensions in the Data Environment


Guest post by Duncan Greaves, Centre for Business in Society

The availability of data, lower cost of storage and processing has increased the growth and adoption of ‘big data’ analysis for a multiplicity of uses.

The dawn of the era of smart processing, machine learning and artificial intelligence can bring huge benefits, in terms of individual empowerment, business opportunity, growth and value creation. At its best, it holds out the prospect of a brighter future for individuals and communities.

However, the turbulence of the data driven society presents challenges in the innovation, ethics, social cohesion, privacy and security arenas.

An upcoming one day interdisciplinary conference, hosted by CBiS (the Centre for Business in Society) sets the focus on how organisations in the private, public and third sector are responding to and addressing these tensions.

The themes presented and discussed at the conference include:

Big Data tensions

Big data techniques drive innovation and strategy [1]. The lower cost of cloud processing removes barriers to entry and can democratise complex analysis. However, the loss of the data collection context, and misuse in contexts separate from the collection can raise governance, security and ethical concerns that need to be addressed.

Business tensions

Pervasive data and the insights gained give rise to new businesses, new business models, and value creation mechanisms that produce additional revenue streams for business [2]. However, it is apparent that the value of digital disruption depends on whether your business is a disruptor or a disruptee. The adoption of new business models has the potential for reduced employment in a gig economy, and the resulting precarious employment leads to additional administration and social costs for society.


Skills tensions

Advanced data techniques and the re-alignment of duties further highlight the digital skills gap in society, and the difficulties of upskilling, reskilling, retaining and retraining employees [3]. Training becomes ongoing and specialised as the demands of new techniques accelerate. Providing a valuable and relevant education in data in a world where decentralised business has hollowed out traditional employment has become a difficult problem for both the businesses that need to update and the educators and policy makers that need to support the new economy.

Ownership tensions

Blended data stores have to negotiate the relationships between the sources and owners of the data. This distributes not only the ownership, but the cleansing, veracity and reliability of data to many parties. As data is transformed from onsite static informant to cloud based dynamic driver of many businesses the importance of stewardship has grown. Managing the rights and responsibilities of those who collect, use and curate the data is a new imperative for many information driven enterprises.

Privacy tensions


Despite the many successes of social and personal data sharing the battleground of personal data is still being fought over. The introduction of new legislation like the GDPR, introducing consent, collection and usage governance that respects the privacy of individuals remains centre stage [4]. Encryption, pseudonymisation and privacy preserving data mining techniques and their adoption to avoid financial penalties present new dimensions of compliance and governance for many organisations across the public and private sectors.

Cybersecurity tensions  

The infrastructure and machines that support the new data society provide instant communication between individuals, companies and devices across the globe. Testing [5] and protecting these interconnected and cyber-physical assets from attack has highlighted the potential for brittleness and fragility in complex systems. The fear of cyberattack or data compromise still chills the behaviour of individuals, preventing engagement, the adoption of new technology, and participation in online society.

Further Action

By bringing together academics, practitioners and public policy researchers this conference aims to bridge the knowledge awareness gaps that exist in the adoption of data in society. The ‘Data, Organisations and Society’ Cluster group of researchers within CBiS at Coventry University aim to facilitate the transfer of knowledge between stakeholders to maximise the benefits, and to minimise the pitfalls towards building a smarter, data enabled community.

The CBiS Data in Society conference will be held on 21st November 2018 in Coventry, UK. To be first on our mailing list and to find out more please contact cbis.info@coventry.ac.uk



[1]: LaValle, S., Lesser, E., Shockley, R., Hopkins, M.S. and Kruschwitz, N., 2011. Big data, analytics and the path from insights to value. MIT Sloan Management Review, 52(2), p.21.

[2]: Chen, H., Chiang, R.H. and Storey, V.C., 2012. Business intelligence and analytics: from big data to big impact. MIS Quarterly, pp.1165-1188.

[3]: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/digital-skills-for-the-uk-economy

[4] https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/

[5]: Fowler, D.S., Cheah, M., Shaikh, S.A. and Bryans, J., 2017, March. Towards a Testbed for Automotive Cybersecurity. In Software Testing, Verification and Validation (ICST), 2017 IEEE International Conference on (pp. 540-541). IEEE.



Coventry University