Dr Kok-Leong Ong La Trobe University

In December this year, La Trobe Business School Associate Professor Dr Kok-Leong Ong, will chair the Australasian Data Mining Conference in Canberra. For Dr Ong, raising awareness around big data and how to handle it correctly, is crucial.

“The theme of this year’s conference is Big Data, Big Data mining, and teaching.” He explains. “All these aspects are important sides of this coin. No matter what industry you’re in, once big data comes streaming in, in whatever form, you will have be equipped to deal with the three big V’s: Volume, Velocity and Variety.”

When dealing with big data, raw data arrives at a rapid rate (velocity), and in huge amounts (a high volume). It also manifests itself in different forms (variety) that the analyst has to be able to process seamlessly. The process of handling and researching this data is data mining. To do this competently, having a highly versatile and analytical skillset is hugely important. “Having access to certain data derived from users or consumers, can give a company a big competitive advantage.” Dr Ong argues. “It gives a business an invaluable insight in the way their product is rated, consumed and rated in the world depending on what is being marketed exactly. But the shape, form and way of processing raw data will depend entirely on the business, and what variables they are keen to know more about.”

When talking about ‘competitive advantages’, the focus is often on financial advantages for big corporations. However, Dr Kok-Leong Ong believes that competitive advantage is broader than this: “A lot of big data can be used for social good in society as well, but an important factor in achieving this social good, is making sure data analysts are trained in such a way that they not only master the skillset required, but are also aware of the ethical value of the data they’re handling, and asking questions about how this data will be implemented in a company’s business plan. Ask yourself where this data can go, and what could be achieved with it if it reaches the right people.”

In Dr Kok-Leong Ong’s eyes, creating this sense of responsibility in graduates, means instilling it in students at university through teaching. “At La Trobe Business School, we offer subjects delving into the ethical side of handling data, in combination with subjects detailing Business-oriented abilities relating to areas including Finance, Management and Marketing, so students develop a broader sense of entrepreneurship in combination with their analytical skills.”

This is why fears of a draconian surveillance society running on big data often seem unfounded to him. “If we train people correctly and encourage them to do good, big data can create enormous benefits for society.” Dr Ong explains. “For example, one of the projects I’m currently working on revolves around mothers using formula to feed their newborn babies, and whether there is any correlation with whether or not the child develops an allergy or is prone to obesity at a later stage. We are currently capturing usage data from a group of young mothers, to determine in what way the information they come across on a La Trobe developed app has an effect on their baby’s health. If an app encourages a parent to add the right amount of water before the powder for example, the parent will statistically be more inclined to add a bit too much water to the portion every time. In one feed, this might not mean much, but when you are overfeeding a child six times a day, this will very likely have consequences in the long run. If we can develop our research in such a way that it will prevent this in the future, it can have a huge impact on a large amount of people, for generations to come.”

Dr Kok-Leong Ong will be chairing the Australasian Data Mining Conference in December this year. For more information on the conference, see the conference website.

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