This data is usually referred to as "Big Data" – an umbrella term used for data sources that are characterized by high volume (i.e. amount of data), high velocity (i.e. speed of change in data), and high variety (i.e. range of different data types e.g., text, images and videos).
Big Data represents a challenge for firms and governments since it shifts the focus from obtaining primary data (which used to be the key concern for organizations over the past decades) to analyzing vast amounts of secondary data. As such, Big Data is reconfiguring the long-established equilibria for market research companies. It is equally challenging marketing professions (e.g. advertising managers, brand managers, communication managers, customer relationship managers, key account managers, and market research specialists) as well as managerial functions (e.g. brokers, HR managers, innovation managers). Notably, Big Data is also raising relevant implications for people in a plurality of their daily roles: as consumers, as investors, and as citizens. The amount, speed, and variety of data available today on individuals is stimulating important discussions in terms of the opportunities and risks that Big Data brings in terms of personal and collective privacy, security, and wellbeing.
The purpose of the Big Data Research Centreis to shed light on the challenges resulting from Big Data for firms, customers, governments, and society at large. Specifically the Big Data Research Centre focuses on three research questions:
While answering these questions the Big Data Research Centre pays special attention to the challenges that Big Data represent in a cross-cultural environment. This includes different ethical perceptions across cultures as well as the challenges that arise from unstructured data in different languages, in addition to different data formats.
Big Data, Social Media and Firm Decision-Making
One of the applications of Big Data that have been discussed most frequently in academic literature and popular business press is its impact on firm decision-making. Due to the increasing use of digital marketing technologies and social media applications, firms now have an abundance of data available not only about their current and potential customers, but also about their employees and current and potential investors. This creates a series of challenges regarding the integration of data and managers’ day-to-day work. Which data is relevant for firm decision-making? How should such data be analyzed given the volume and variety of data formats? And how frequently should analyses be updated, given the rate of change of Big Data?
Big Data and its Role within a Sustainable and Secure Society
In addition to any potential influence on firm decision-making, Big Data is also starting to impact public administrations, governments, and society at large on a local and global level. On a local level, cities like Bristol in the UK and Boston in the US already use systematically collected data to optimize waste disposal (e.g. by installing sensors in public trash bins), limit pollution (e.g. by triggering automatic discounts on public transportation when traffic reaches certain thresholds), and define health policies (e.g. by linking data on air quality collected through sensors on street lights with hospital admissions of respiratory diseases). On a national level, Big Data has been used for political marketing, such as in the US Presidential Elections where voter databases are enriched with personal information to target electors with customized political messages. On a global level, Big Data can help in dealing with threats of terrorism (through terrorist prevention, e.g., by automatically analyzing geographic movements of cellular phones to identify suspicious patterns), and global warming (through regulation, e.g., tracking the pollution at the micro – firms – and macro level – global environment).
Big Data and Ethics in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Both research on how Big Data impacts firm decision as well as the one looking into its impact on public administration and governments, has largely been conducted in the US. This implies that most of our knowledge comes from North America and is built on the implicit assumptions that such findings can be transferred to other countries and cultures. While this is undoubtedly sensible for some cases (e.g. mathematical models to analyze and predict Big Data), it might be less so in other instances, for two reasons. First, ethical and legal standards have been shown to differ significantly on a global level. Therefore what might be acceptable, and applicable, in one case might generate problems in other situations. And second, while a significant share of Big Data is number based, much of it is based on text, video or pictures. These data forms are more subject to cultural influence in terms of implicit and explicit language, normative structures, and taken-for-granted.