Big data for a better world: It’s not the size of your (windy) city, it’s what you do with it

blogjune5 copyLast week brought me to Chicago and Rotterdam for most excellent conferences: Theory + Practice in Marketing and the Marketing Innovation Symposium. Hard to choose from top academics, CEOs and former prime ministers, but above picture reminded me of Anil Menon (Cisco)’s challenge questions:

1)     What if you had unlimited computing, storage, and digital connections at a reasonable price, would you run your business, city, life the same way?

2)     What if you had it when you started your career, would you be in the same business right now?

3)     Then how would you change your business, city, life?

Most CEOs answered no to the first 2 questions, while the answer to the third requires integrating your digital infrastructure with the physical infrastructure, instead of the add-on it is (most likely) now.

A great example is solving traffic jams in a city like Paris or Amsterdam. Most traffic comes from drivers trying to find a parking space right around their destination (e.g. a government service office) – the average Parisian spends 4 years of her life finding parking space, while a lot of space goes unoccupied because drivers don’t find it.

What can cities do? The first alternative is to push government services outside the cities. Second, when people do have to drive into congested cities, they should bid in real time for parking space, taking into account how much time they have to walk to their destination.

Opportunities for life also abound: tele-radiology from Bangelore helps reduce child heart failure in Tanzania (the country with most child deaths given the absence of local specialists), English librarians get paid by Korean moms to suggest the right books for their children to learn the language, Ghanaian kids who work during the day learn in the evening with US kids, making excellent use of the time difference.

What is needed for these opportunities of using big data for good? Visionary leadership, global open standards, smart regulation, public and private participation and a new ecosystem for such markets.

How will you help realize this better future?

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