Ford Tackles Big Data And How It Can Improve Our Lives

Big Deal With Big Data, Ford Trends

Ford held its annual Trend Conference recently and discussed topics that went far and wide from their automobile roots with speakers expert in sustainability, data, design, and the growing prominence of women in the global marketplace. They shared their knowledge with us, and each other, encouraging the audience to ask questions and expand everyone’s points of view.

One session, What’s the Big Deal with Big Data, proved to be particularly fascinating, if not for the topic alone, but for the diverse speakers who tackled the same issue from very different angles. The panel included Don Butler of Ford Motor Company, Cynthia Czabala of InterContinental Hotels Group, Chuck Holland of UPS, Douglas Davis of Intel, Sarah Quinlan of MasterCard Advisors and Dan Wagner of Civis Analytics. It was quite a group.

Although the industry each represented was very different, the message was very much the same. Big data is a big deal and the challenge is to both manage all that information, utilizing just the pieces that will help them best serve their customers, and to do it in a way that doesn’t leave those customers feeling like their privacy has been compromised.

We are all, as individuals, so very aware of every bit of information we divulge, knowing that something as simple as a form filled in with your name and address is likely going to flow through myriad channels. It can be a very good thing, but it can also be a frightening thought that companies know so much about us.

Those companies are aware of the challenge, but throughout the session, there were common threads that might set your mind at ease. The goal of these companies, big and small, is not to spy on you and collect your data for nefarious purposes. The goal is to use data to make your experiences more personal and more satisfying.

Cynthia Czabala, Vice President, Data Services, InterContinental Hotels Group gave a great example of how small bits of data collected during a hotel stay can make future visits more rewarding for customers.

Say you’re a frequent traveler and when you dine with the hotel, you always order the same bottle of wine. The hotel knows what you order and can use that information in a very positive way. Rather than choosing to reward you with a gift card or something impersonal, they can instead choose to give you a bottle of your favorite wine as a thank you. Big data. Small details.

This is a personal piece of information, but it’s one that the hotel isn’t abusing, but using to make a customer’s life a little better. Don Butler, Executive Director, Connected Vehicles and Service at Ford spoke directly to our fears of companies gathering all our data and sharing it without our knowledge or permission.

Connected cars offer the opportunity to collect an incredible amount of information. Think about how much time you spend in your car and what your day-to-day travels, choices of radio stations, app usage, and even map destinations say about you. That’s a lot of data.

But, Butler said that your personal data is your personal data. Ford is interested in improving the driver experience, but knows that a car is a very personal space and that your date will always remain your data.

And that’s the crux of the issue. Big data is not going to get any smaller and the tools companies use to collect data will only grow more sophisticated in the future. That data can be a valuable tool for improving our lives and making our interactions with companies more personal, as long as the balance between what’s yours is yours, and what’s theirs is theirs, can be maintained.

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Ford covered my expenses to attend this conference.