Industry Thought Leadership

Good Will Hunting in the Age of Analytics

April, 2018
Ayman Z. Jomaa

Numbase Group

Right across the world, societies are moving through a period of rapid change, with serious questions pertaining to privacy arising in tandem with the explosion of artificial intelligence, big data and the internet of things (IoT). As recently as two or three years ago, the concept of being able to control the heating in your apartment remotely, from your mobile phone, anywhere in the world, would have been unfathomable to many. The incredible depth of understanding about an individual’s behaviours and thought processes is such that companies like Numbase, which utilizes big-data on a global level, are now able to precisely change behaviours and influence how customers think.

Those who embrace how we employ big-data at Numbase demonstrably enjoy new, faster and more relevant services. They save time and money. They receive real-time ‘mega-promotions’ that actually reflect how they are feeling and what they need. For citizens embracing the IoT, energy consumption at the home and office can be micro-managed and observed remotely. In the past year alone, the presence of an AI assistant in the home has become a new wonder – almost commonplace - filling some with joy and others with dread.

These changes are huge, and they have snowballed over a short period of time. Bringing AI in to the home is a monumental shift in how citizens interact with companies and each other. Importantly, the ability to listen to what subscribers are actually saying allows those of us in AI and big data to affect decision-making. There is clearly an implicit trust on the part of the citizen that – perhaps miraculously given recent events in the world of social media – remains strong. The question is, how far can that trust be stretched, and could it ever reach breaking point?

Good will
Predictive data, real-time analytics and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) – this is what we do from the Americas to Europe, Africa and Asia. We are able to speak to each subscriber in a finely tuned, unique way. We use the kind of language that he or she prefers, we know if the subscriber prefers the use of numbers to text-rich messages. By adapting to the precise way the individual thinks, we are able to influence the way the person acts. We know what kind of music he wants to listen to or which promotion will make him spend money.

The scale is breath-taking. Numbase services around 52 million customers every day with customized music experiences. We provide 50 million people with highly targeted financial services – every day. What this means is that by using big-data analytics, we’re able to forecast purchasing decisions by understanding the minutia of an individual’s behavioural traits personal financial decisions. For one company to hold such power is monumental: it is a great responsibility.

So, the first and most difficult reputational issue for those of us working with big data is one of good will. Over recent weeks we have all seen the leaders of social media giants squirm in front of policy makers, forced to admit that their business models have been built upon the packaging and selling of personal data in the most unexpected and invasive ways. It has come as a surprise to many that Facebook has access to – and sells – the behavioural traits and personal details of individuals who are not even registered on Facebook. All of us in the digital world whose companies are built upon analytics have a responsibility to think about what that means.

So, is this a turning point? Or has society passed the point of no return? What we do know is that we have rapidly moved in to an era of greater awareness and responsibility. We are likely to see the relationships between mobile network operators, content providers, regulators and end users change for the better. Companies such as Numbase, which has built an international business based on the development of digital products and financing solutions using big data, must now grasp the mettle and speak up as advocates for good will. Because, none of us want to see our children exist in a virtual 1984.

Yes, this is the world we live in and the business we’re running. However, when companies take this responsibility seriously and operate with genuine good will, our industry can be a force for incredible good. Indeed, for most businesses, what we do is transforming lives for the better. We help citizens make better decisions and enhance their response rate.

Responsible lending
One of the most important parts of the way in which Numbase uses big data is its ability to identify how to lend responsibly. The data that underpins the digital financing solutions that Numbase provides to major carriers such as Zain, Airtel, Ooredoo or Three is critical in the pursuit of ethical, responsible financing. Our advanced user profiling techniques mean that we’re now providing end users with seven million micro loans every single day. We are issuing millions of small loans – even cash – to minutely profiled subscribers every single day. The beauty of big-data analytics is that we know who to lend to and how much.

This is responsible. It should be not only championed but encouraged. And, of course it’s nothing new: in developed markets, credit referencing agencies have controlled who borrows what for several decades – decisions based on highly personal and sensitive personal data. The important take-home message is that these kinds of services exist in a positive social context and form part of a cohesive, safe international financial ecosystem.

Being seen to actively embrace the issues and play a cooperative role in promoting good will and responsibility is part of the journey towards regaining and/or retaining trust amongst the public in what we do. Our Associate Membership of GSMA is important because it gives us a voice, alongside other key global players, in helping to transform people’s lives through the provision of innovative financing – particularly in parts of the world that still struggle with unbanked populations. Our association with GSMA also provides Numbase with an opportunity to widen its social impact.

Big Data for Social Good
The weight of responsibility that rests on our shoulders should also lead us to collectively, champion the incredible work that big data is doing in helping public agencies and NGO’s to tackle epidemic, natural disasters and environmental pollution: because big data is not only about creating commercial solutions to socio-economic needs.

Much like GSMA, Numbase’ s recent decision to become a member of the SAMENA Council is based on a recognition that the industry and its derivatives are in urgent need of platforms that carry out proper advocacy work in repositioning the whole ecosystem and processes between operators, service providers and content providers. Our services, which include VAS Solutions, Premium Numbers, ‘Connect’ Powered by Shazam, Mega Promotions, Loyalty Programs, Ring Back Tone Solutions, Microfinance Solutions, Content Aggregation, and Multimedia & Music Content all offer personalized and relevant high-end solutions: intrinsically adding value to the subscriber and the carrier. It is incumbent upon us to help citizens understand that our use of big data and analytics is beneficial to the individual and to society.

I do believe that recent controversies in the world of social media have awakened the public consciousness to the potential pitfalls of big data and AI – but it is right that policymakers are holding social media giants to account. Utilizing AI responsibly means managing the enormous quantities of data we hold, process or interact with in the most cautiously creative, ethical way possible. We embrace the incredible innovations that are within reach and we will always pursue cutting-edge technical creativity – but we do so in a way that serves and protects our customers and wider society. Big data means we can help every human being build their own life story – but for those of us who are using big data in this way it is a serious undertaking.

Artificial intelligence is – like it or not – is a force that will have irrevocable consequences for mankind. At Numbase Group, we’re committed to making a lasting positive and exciting contribution to this next incredible chapter in the history of mankind.