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|Behavioral Ethics of Data Science – Setting Standards on Acquisition, Usage and Execution|
Behavioral Ethics of Data Science – Setting Standards on Acquisition, Usage, and Execution
In this article: An outline of how Data Professionals need to conduct themselves in the age of Big Data Analytics
Never before in history has there been such an abundance of data available to everyone. This data resides in multiple complex formats, and is available in many different ways, shapes and forms.
Ironically, there has never been a better time to achieve business impact with data. Given this proliferation of data, computing power has risen exponentially and the “art” of data science management has given way to new perspectives on acquiring, managing, and using data through sophisticated analytical tools to improve your company’s competitive and financial positioning. This includes automated acquisition tools, analytical methods and employing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to yield predictable outcomes and patterns around consumer behavior, all resulting in business growth opportunities.
We’ve heard that “data is the new currency” and “knowledge is wealth”, but with this comes a great deal of challenges on how best to harvest this currency and how to invest the wealth to get the greatest return on that investment.
By definition, we essentially all have access to the same vast amounts of data that reside in the real and virtual world. Those that best can extract it the fastest, acquire knowledge from it, and implement and execute actionable tasks are the winners; the ability to do it faster than your competition will differentiate you from your company peers and can help position you as the disruptive force within the industry. But due to the intense pressure of being out “in front” and gaining that competitive edge, how you acquire data can be a slippery slope with respect to integrity, ethics and behavioral aspects.
Unfortunately, in today’s competitive global economy sometimes organizations act first and then ask for forgiveness later – and usually only after costly international legal and lengthy business negotiations pan out (think Facebook and Google data privacy and utilization concerns).
GUIDELINES AND STANDARDS
What can a Strategic Intelligence professional do to mitigate these very real concerns around data integrity and company privacy? It can be overwhelming to say the least. Many make the argument that there is a fine line between what is legally permissible to acquire versus what is ethically and morally acceptable behavior around acquisition and usage.
It is important to note that as intelligence professionals, we each have a responsibility to continuously improve our practices and set examples for ethical behavior. We, and the greater strategic and data intelligence community must reflect the appropriate tone to start establishing universal practices, applicable to all countries and industries, that ensure a proper, legal and universally acceptable way to exercise competitive and market data intelligence acquisition and utilization.
Let’s start with what might be viewed as inappropriate examples of intelligence gathering and usage. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but provides some of the more commonly associated forms of intelligence data not appropriate for competitive and marketplace usage (unless publicly provided by company). Examples of information types that Strategic Intelligence professionals should never use (unless they’re already provided publicly by the company) include:
As a general rule, and in accordance with the SCIP Code of Ethics, you should never use information that was obtained through improper methods that would otherwise be confidential. Overall, good corporate governance practices around information acquisition and utilization should focus on the following:
How should Competitive Intelligence be obtained? Below bullets are an attempt to provide some “standardized” behaviors that should act as a foundational basis for data acquisition and usage:
Next, let’s look at these by category.
SOCIAL MEDIA - With the proliferation of social media, intelligence can now be readily acquired via dozens of different social media platforms. While new, the guidelines and behaviors surrounding the legal and ethical guidelines in collection and usage exactly still apply to social media context. While the “media” may have changed, the ethical rules and guidance have not. Key principles include:
PRODUCT INFORMATION - Acquiring information about a competitor’s products can contribute greatly to your understanding of how the company positions their portfolio. A key way to acquire such information is through the use of “mystery shopping”, a legal practice in which individuals pose as customers to gather non-confidential information about products and services being offered by a competitor. Some examples might include purchasing products to compare support levels, making inquiries with 3rd parties to examine the selling characteristics of their products versus a competitor, researching pricing, or reverse engineering product configurations. Key principles include:
FORMER EMPLOYEES - Former employees of competitor companies often possess confidential information, and issues may arise as to whether that confidential information can be shared now that the former employee: (1) is no longer working for the competitor; and (2) may now be working for your company. Former employees may have contractual confidentiality obligations (non-disclosure / non-compete agreements) to their former employer, which can present several challenges to how data is shared and in what capacity.
Remember that a newly hired individual should be brought into employment because of their general knowledge of the industry, tends and best practices, NOT because of their possession of confidential competitor information. Under no circumstances should individuals divulge information that may be confidential to their former employer. Key principles include:
PRIMARY RESEARCH - Engaging 3rd party vendors to conduct competitive intelligence is a common practice for many companies, especially when availability of necessary information is not present from public domain resources. To this end, competitive information should always be obtained in an ethical and lawful matter when dealing with 3rd party research firms. They should have their readily available criteria and state principles on how to extract intelligence from their research community that complies with industry standards. Their practices should align with your company’s standards of business conduct. Key principles include:
THE BOTTOM LINE
Distilling all of these behaviors and requirements down into a few easy-to-remember guidelines will help internalize and make practitioners better analysts:
Today more than ever, it is of utmost urgency to harness the effectiveness of data analytics and to incorporate intelligence and insights into your corporate strategy plans. This is a fundamental requirement not only to effectively compete, but should be viewed as a minimum requirement in remaining competitive in the marketplace we currently reside in. The way data is gathered and utilized should be ethical, professional, and principled, and should follow corporate and industry standards in ensuring that not only are you operating in a professional manner, but you are minimizing / eliminating any sort of risk and exposure (both reputational and legally) for you and your company.
“The way data is gathered and utilized should be ethical, professional, and principled. As intelligence professionals, we each have a responsibility to continuously improve our practices and set examples for ethical behavior.”
Chair - SCIP Member Advisory Board
Hewlett Packard Enterprise
SCIP Code of Ethics
Professionalism - To continually strive to increase the recognition and respect of the profession
Compliance - To comply with all applicable laws, domestic and international
Transparency - To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one's identity and organization, prior to all interviews
Conflict-Free - To avoid conflicts of interest in fulfilling one's duties
Honesty - To provide honest and realistic recommendations and conclusions in the execution of one's duties
Evangelism - To promote this Code of Ethics within one's company, with third-party contractors and within the entire profession
Alignment - To faithfully adhere to and abide by one's company policies, objectives and guidelines