A look back at 2018 from the experts

It’s been a fascinating year for big data, with so many important milestones, events and trends that have dominated the conversations in the industry. We asked the experts from Starcount to look back and tell us about their data trend or moment for 2018…

Edwina Dunn – CEO

‘One statistic that emerged this year and echoed in my thoughts throughout 2018 is: women hold less than 7% of technology jobs in Europe. That this poor representation should exist in 2018 is shocking. Knowing that all the new jobs, all the growth jobs of the next decade will be fuelled by science and technology skills means that this is even more worrying.

Yet, looking to green shoots, this has also been a year where women have stepped forward to celebrate their success in Data & Technology.

The Women in Data UK conference, held this November, in partnership with The Female Lead, saw a record number of women attending (1,000).  We celebrated ‘Twenty women in Data & Technology’, Awards which shine a spotlight on inspirational females from this talent pool. The Inspiring 50 UK Awards continued this showcase and celebration with Google and the FT.

So, despite starting the year on such a tragic statistic, I’m ending it on a high note, having seen incredible progress with the celebration of female achievement . I feel sure that 2019 will be even bigger for women in Tech around the world.’

Ed Blake – Head of Data Architecture

‘2018 was dominated by GDPR.  Obviously, this came with a whole new set of regulations that controllers and processors of personal data had to abide by, but it also (and some would say, more importantly) forced organisations to re-evaluate their culture/mindset with regards to the data that they are responsible for.

Those that saw GDPR as a simple box-ticking exercise will not have grasped its true intentions; the legislation is a natural evolution of the original Data Protection Act, and, at its heart, lies the same ethos – for organisations to respect, value and protect the information they hold about individuals, and to use it in a way that is fair, considerate and transparent.

The Data Protection Act was conceived pre-internet, and the use of data since then, particularly in customer analytics and marketing, has changed beyond recognition.  It would be very easy to argue that the GDPR is the DPA for the “digital age”.

While most organisations rushed to be ready (tick lots of boxes!) for D-day, May 25th 2018 came & went without much fanfare; new data handling policies had been introduced, new security measures implemented, and millions of privacy policies rewritten and publicised to billions of consumers; but the world didn’t end, digital marketing didn’t cease, and personal data continued to be collected for analytic & marketing purposes.

At its heart, GDPR should have changed very little for conscientious organisations – it provided an updated framework for collecting, using & protecting personal data in a respectful and transparent way.’

James Miller – Location Planning Expert

‘It’s been the year for humanising data. In 2018, I believe companies finally started to focus on making big data less complex, and the insights far more easily digestible through visualisation and better storytelling.

The tide has turned from worrying about collecting big data, to looking at what to do with it. In short, it’s been a trend towards quality over quantity in the data world.

This is something that I believe Starcount has excelled at more than most: we pride ourselves on humanising data. It’s no good simply presenting some numbers – it is the interpretation of those numbers that reveals the true story of what is going on. This will be a trend that continues to develop into 2019, as the quality of data storytelling gets better and better.’

Rowena Humby – Chief Product Officer

‘My data milestone for 2018 has been the development of our latest product, Starcount Audiences. We set out this year with the bold challenge of trying to evolve consumer targeting and bring it into a new age.

Using our pioneering passion analysis, based on social data, and combining this with other geodemographic data sets, we managed to map customers’ ‘passions’ to their ‘postcodes’ revolutionising omnichannel marketing, with the help of big data sets.

This was truly a transformative moment, one that we will look back on as a marker for helping brands to become more relevant to their customers and potential customers. Bring on 2019!’

Dominic Gomar – Data Engineer

‘One of the defining moments of 2018 for me was when Guido Van Rossum, the creator of Python decided it was time to step down as “benevolent dictator”. Until this moment, I perhaps had taken the Python enhancement proposals for granted and since Python has grown significantly over the last few years, with more data-driven companies adopting the language, the news gained a lot of attention and it posed the question “Who was steering the ship?”.

We’re yet to know what impact this will have in the direction of programming languages in the future, but it’s a positive to see how much attention this received – truly a tribute to Guido’s legacy and how much the language impacts the statistical and development communities alike.’

Hannah Poskett – Observatory Scientist

‘For me, it’s the obvious choice. GDPR.

What I found most interesting, wasn’t necessarily the new rules that were put in place, but the reaction to it. Everyone knows about data these days, thinks they understand it, thinks they want to take back control of their data from the massive corporations.

However, after the legislation was put in place, I found it most fascinating to see people’s priorities change. While they thought total control and full clarity of T&C’s was what they wanted, people forgot about the importance of convenience over everything else. Double opt-in’s, ‘Agree & Accept’ before visiting any website, continual pushes to opt-in, all presenting consumers with a never-ending message of consent that they ‘could do without’.

Be careful what you wish for…’

Chris Nourse – Product Manager

‘2018 saw the development of self-service AI tools. The leading players in cloud computing began offering services with the aim of democratising AI.

Google launched AutoML to allow the non-technical user to build advanced AIs armed with nothing but decent data to train the system with (and the cash to pay for the privilege). Amazon launched Deeplens which is a standalone deep learning camera packaged with all the technology – and machine learning models – to get you started.

While these kinds of tools tend to cover quite specific use cases, machine learning and AI are clearly seeping out of the domain of the highly technical into the general population, where you and I can start making use of them.’

Chris Gartside – Chief Data Scientist

‘This year was all about the death of the high street: 2018 featured dozens of store closure with household names such as House of Fraser, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and more shutting down stores around the country. But it was also the year for the rise of the consumer: 2018 saw customers challenging retailers more and more. The result? A far greater choice for the customer. And that is trend that will continue to grow.

Slightly frightening but also very encouraging was the increase in peoples’ knowledge in the value of their own information and what big companies are doing with it, both for good and evil.’

Karan Singh – Head of Product Sales

‘My data moment of 2018 was 25th May, when GDPR finally kicked-in. For me it was something that had been talked about for so long and I think a lot of people were bracing themselves thinking that it was going to immediately reset everything that marketers/advertisers had been working towards.

In reality, it’s been a force for good, allowing those who use data to enhance their customer experience and offering, whilst putting those who use data for questionable purposes on the back-foot with the threat of high penalties.

Prior to the 25th May, the use of data in marketing was getting a bad name. However, the introduction of regulation and penalties means that the good guys can continue doing good stuff and the bad actors will be weeded out.’

Rachele Williams – Senior Data Scientist

‘For me, a key trend for 2018 has been brands and customers being even more concerned about their environmental impact – particularly in relation to reducing plastic and palm oil.

We’ve seen retailers like Lidl pledging to remove 5p reusable plastic bags from shops, and brands like Adidas developing exciting plastic recycling innovations through their new yoga collection made from recycled ocean plastic. And, more recently, the controversial Iceland Christmas ad that was banned for showing political content in relation to removing palm oil from all their own-brand foods to fight rainforest destruction.

Social media gives a strong read on what the current and upcoming trends are, so, in 2019, brands and retailers will need to ensure they have the capability to look externally beyond their own businesses to keep up with changing trends and plan their response.’

Mark Howland – Chief Data Scientist

‘2018 has been the year for big tech scandals. We saw Facebook on the ropes for many reasons. News broke that Netflix and Spotify were able to read private messages. Microsoft, Sony and Amazon were able to see email addresses of their users’ friends as late as 2017. The biggest scandal for Facebook was the political consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, holding data from 87 million accounts accessed via a third party application. Facebook has since tightened access, but public trust has been eroded. Ten years ago, election spending was transparent. Recently it has become considerably more opaque.’

Xan Atkins – Product Marketing Lead

‘This year has, without a doubt, been the year of the influencer. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for influencer marketing: early in the year, it was the trendy phrase on everyone’s mind, as huge predictions were made for its future. Then, halfway through the year, the bubble burst, when people like Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, Keith Weed, came out criticising parts of the practise, and brands started to realise that there was rampant fraud taking place. Distrust set in and the suddenly the phrase felt almost taboo.

But then brands realised that there was an answer: data. They didn’t need to pick an influencer based on sketchy metrics, dodgy follower numbers and vague reach estimates. Now, they could use big data sets, like social data, to understand which influencers would truly represent their brand and thus resonate with their customers.

At Starcount, we analysed a brands customers and segmented them based on their passions and motivations, with the result that we could identify the best influencer to represent a certain brand and effectively appeal to their customers! And our choice was almost never the obvious one – that showcased the power of data to identify the right influencer for the right brand without having to rely on instinct or ineffective metrics.

So, we might have started the year banging on about influencers, but we’ll go into 2019 talking now about the rise of the nano-influencers: those who might not have hundreds of thousands of followers, but what they do have is far more valuable – authenticity and relevance. And it is big data that will continue to shine a light on the path.’

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