Data Hygiene in the Attention Economy

Sorin Staicu

by Growth

Greetings, fellow data-driven pioneer,

Put on your data-enthusiast cap, grab some popcorn, sit back, and indulge. Within the twelve or so minutes we are about to spend together, we will not solve the major data problems of the current business landscape and, no matter how hard we try, we will not set the world on course for eternal data-driven prosperity. What we can attempt is to clear up the waters regarding our attitude toward data in the context of the attention economy. As I am going to illustrate, it might all boil down to data hygiene.

With no further delay, let’s board the data-hygiene thought train and start off by correctly assessing the status quo and defining the relevant terms in the process. As much as I want to bring this article home asap, we will need to make a few stops along the way. Our first stop? The attention economy!

What Is the Attention Economy?

Former Google advertising strategist, now Oxford-trained philosopher James Williams explains it best. Referring to the digital technologies we have all been enjoying so much (Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, you name it!), Williams states that „these wondrous machines, for all their potential, have not been on our side. Our goals have not been their goals. Rather than supporting our intentions, they have largely sought to grab and keep our attention.”

In his award-winning book, “Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy,” James Williams goes on to explain the economic paradigm shift brought on by the ever-increasing availability of data and information. You can download the book here for free. It is hands down the most accessible and insightful work on the subject of technology ethics I have encountered so far.

Now that the book-advertising segment is over, let’s dive back in. We used to think of it as an Information Economy because data and information were the scarce exchange units of the emerging digital economy. After all, we are told time and again that we are living in the Information Era

Those Who Own the Data Rule the World?

Well, not so much anymore! Here’s why:

Information and data have become promptly available to everyone who can afford an internet connection. Moreover, data has become so abundant, it is now plagued by heavy pollution and often constitutes the basis for misinformation and, much more worryingly, for purposeful disinformation. 

Beyond the good old trusty LIE, which also proliferates spectacularly these days, poor data quality or, simply put, dirty data causes more damage than ever. Nonetheless, even though clean, statistically relevant data still constitutes an enormously valuable asset, the digital economy has steered away from a data-centric transactional paradigm. 

We are swimming in data. 

So? If the data has become so abundant, what is the scarce resource that has taken its place as an economic exchange unit in the Information Age? Exactly: the new exchange unit of the digital economy is the user’s attention. 

The Rise and Reign of the Attention-Mining Machines

I will admit it’s a bit of a stretch, but I’ve been waiting for a suiting occasion to write this down for quite a while: 

You, my friend, much like everybody else using an internet device, are for sale. There is an entire infrastructure out here that has been designed, built, and is being calibrated continuously to effectively mine, keep and sell forward your undevised attention.

Smile and wave!Attention-Mining Machines

The most prolific digital companies today use some of the world’s most powerful computational systems in the service of attentional capture. Most of the time, we truly do not stand a chance. We simply cannot help ourselves, so we keep indulging, ever so hopelessly arguing in favor of the benign nature of our preferred digital technologies. Our beloved technologies, however, are turning into ever more efficient attention-mining machines.

As Oscar Wilde suggests, “we can resist everything except temptation.”

To sum up and to quote James Williams one last time, “as digital technologies have made information abundant, our attention has become the scarce resource – and in the digital attention economy, technologies compete to capture and exploit our mere attention, rather than supporting the true goals we have for our lives.”

Onto our next station, then:

Data Hygiene Perks and Benefits

In the pursuit of fully informed, data-driven decision making (DDD), C-level executives and business owners alike tend to envision an ever-growing network of relevant data points on an all-encompassing data canvas. 

This intricate business intelligence (BI) monster must be constantly developed for their particular requirements and should be well-suited to inform even the toughest of decisions in the ultra-dynamic 21st-century business ecosystems. 

However, it all boils down to gathering and using data, and the only thing that is worse than having no data is unknowingly deriving insight from loads and loads of dirty data. Here are three major benefits that an ongoing data-hygiene program both enable and fuel:

1. Data-Driven Decision Making

Statistically relevant data, robust data analytics tools, and ongoing data hygiene programs drive decisional efficiency up, which in turn drives operational costs down. Moreover, the consequences of sane data-driven practices ripple throughout the entire organization and even beyond, into its outsourced segments, bringing instant, quantifiable benefits in terms of versatility, scalability, and ultimately profitability.

A 2016 study shows that data-driven decision making adoption has nearly tripled between 2005 and 2010. Data-driven decision making owes much of its success to the digital sector’s zest to invest in automation and its relentless pursuit of reliable insights. Data-Driven Decision Making

Customer data represents an important component of the data ecosystem which offers decision-makers the actionable insights that bring them ahead of the curve and keep their companies on the positive spectrum of their profit margins. In fact, some of 123FormBuilder’s most successful clients use our platform precisely for that: gathering and managing customer data. 

Having access to operational data, customer data, and to other private or public datasets, and to currently available data analytics and visualization technologies, the 21st-century leader is fully equipped to make well-informed decisions. From risk management and predictive analytics to compliance and fraud detection, deriving insight from hygienic datasets abstracts away operational complexity, brings clarity to the decision-making process and paves the way to powerful business moves.

2. Experimentation and Risk Management

Whether it is credit, market, operational, compliance or any other brand of business risk, ongoing data hygiene practices allow companies to more accurately and quickly identify potential risks, reduce intervention time, and take proper decisions. Moreover, by implementing predictive and advanced analytics on real-time and historical data streams and correlated datasets, businesses can improve risk models, expand real-time risk intelligence capabilities and significantly reduce risk-management spending.

Having this sort of hawk-eyed view of a company’s running processes and client interactions offers executives the ability to understand precisely what room they have for experimentation, and exactly where actions reach the frontier of innovation and pass into the realm of foolish risk. Furthermore, having full access to the relevant data allows businesses to identify even the minutest of financial bleeds or self-sabotaging process bottlenecks.

3. Bypassing Path Dependency

From bureaucratic tesseracts that appear to have spawned from the forceful crossbreeding of a Kafkian novel with an Escher sketch to processes that haven’t been touched by optimization since Adam Smith’s invention of modern economics, present digital institutions retain vestiges of the institutions that preceded them in the offline era. Data hygiene is a key component of the solution that will finally cut through the clutter of causal ambiguity that the digital sector has been enduring in terms of business processes.Focus

With the proliferation of robot process automation (RPA), machine learning, artificial intelligence and the internet of things, and as technology gets ever more deeply rooted into our lives and offices, the digital sector is bound to integrate these newly formed layers of our existence. Ultimately, businesses will gain the nimbleness, the insight, the transparency, and the wisdom to bring us all into a less biased, more flourishing future. 

Data Hygiene in the Attention Economy | Closing Argument

I know we’re all sitting on rather big barrels of savviness, and with some effort, we’ll be able to unleash that savviness ever more effectively in the increasingly data-driven business spectacle of the early 2020s. 

As we progress through the next quarter and the next, and so on, exceptional data hygiene is going to become paramount, since effective data governance proves to be a lot more relevant than the data itself and the amount of data we gather. Using 90% of a relatively small database is a lot more impressive and effective than using single-digit percentiles of enormous data lakes.

In one of our next articles, I will be showing you exactly how to effectively run an ongoing data hygiene program, based on proven practices and techniques. Until then, here is the one thought that I want to leave you with: 

As users become increasingly data-conscious and privacy-oriented, the digital businesses that will stand to gain most are the ones that build on healthy data gathering and data processing practices, and most importantly, do so transparently and with the user’s well-being in mind. 

Sure, use data to grow your business, but also show people the value that your data-driven functionalities and decisions bring to their lives. We will more readily award you with our attention if we know precisely what we are getting ourselves into.

Live long and prosper.

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