Opportunities and challenges around data-driven management

Opportunities and challenges around data-driven management - viacryp.jpg

This interview with Edwin Kusters was published on 19 May 2018 in Pulse Media Group’s special ‘Digitalisation of the Public Sector’, distributed by Elsevier Weekblad.

The digitisation of society is leading to increasing amounts of data becoming available. This creates opportunities for governmental organisations to carry out analyses and base policies on those results. The privacy rights of citizens must come first, however, says Edwin Kusters, founder of and technical director at Viacryp.

What is the social relevance of data analysis?

‘There are a lot of great things which can be done with data. What it comes down to is that data enable governing on the basis of facts, rather than on the basis of opinions and gut feelings. By means of data analysis, one can, for example, optimise the use of traffic management systems, discover the cause of traffic congestion in a specific street or make the most effective decisions concerning an issue in the social domain –simply because there are data points on which to base decisions.’

What are the challenges in this respect?

‘Collecting data is the easy part. Because the costs of data storage are minimal, organisations are storing everything in the hope that it will come in handy at some point. In this respect, I think we, as a society, have gone a bit too far—we just collect without knowing why. The challenge is therefore to define the value of specific data and collect them on those grounds. The value of data comes from actually being able to do something with it, which gets tricky when you can no longer see the forest for the trees. In addition, it’s important to find a balance between the amount of data needed and the impact of collecting it on privacy. If you want to determine trends or carry out analyses, it’s best to ask yourself whether you need all the data of a group, or whether, for example, a sample would be sufficient.’

With regard to privacy considerations, not everyone has a positive view on data storage and analysis. What are your thoughts on this?

‘That opposition is justified and the people who stand up for their privacy rights also have a point. For example, it’s logical that a journalist who’s in touch with whistle-blowers wouldn’t want an investigation service to be able to trace his or her travel behaviour. Not knowing what is being recorded is, as far as I’m concerned, an even greater invasion of someone’s privacy. The new European privacy legislation (the GDPR) forces organisations to be more transparent about this, which also makes it easier for people to object to the processing of their data. It’s important to give people that right and to communicate it properly. This is how you respect the wishes of citizens, while an analysis probably won’t depend on a few objections.’

How do you enable secure data analysis?

‘We offer services in the area of pseudonymisation and anonymisation of data. For example, we helped a municipality to investigate the cause of traffic congestion in a particular neighbourhood. In order to reduce congestion, it was necessary to know the reason cars were driving around there. By replacing licence plate numbers with numbers that were meaningless to the municipality, and by doing the same with the permit file, it was possible to anonymously analyse what was local traffic and what wasn’t. By making use of a specialised, independent third party and not using a tool themselves, the municipality made communication to the neighbourhood easier, and not a single resident objected. The outcome led to a new policy within six months. When you inform people properly and respect them, you can get a lot done with little-to-no resistance.’