How Consumers Get Left Out of Big Data

Ryan McConville
Mack Institute 2013 MBA Research Fellow Ryan McConville

Guest post by Ryan McConville, Mack Institute MBA Research Fellow, Wharton Executive MBA

For students interested in exploring early stage business technologies, the Mack Institute is the perfect partner. Other Wharton outlets, such as the Business Plan Competition, might focus on ideas that are ready to market today; the Mack Institute gives students room to explore innovations that are primed to disrupt business tomorrow—emerging technologies that are fresh out of the R&D oven but are not quite ready for commercialization.

The Mack Institute’s MBA Research Fellowship 2013 brought together six students: three executive MBAs on the East Coast, two Executive MBAs on the West Coast, and one full-time MBA. The first part of the Fellowship was a concise and informative mini-course taught by Charlotte Ren, a Mack Institute Senior Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor from the School of Social Policy & Practice at Penn. The second was an independent research study driven by the students, with guidance from Professor Ren and the institute. The Fellowship met several times to discuss topics and hone their methodologies. Topics included two papers on applications of big data; a deep dive into the use of mobile, social networking at the workplace; an investigation into the impact of alternative providers of legal services; and a study on how digital technologies are transforming the food industry.

My research partner Steven Mong and I investigated the burgeoning market for customer data. This is the information that marketers gather about you every time you go shopping with a loyalty card, surf the Internet or post a note on Facebook. Several technologies exist today for the capture, sale, and activation of this data for the purposes of marketers, including data management platforms (DMPs), demand side platforms (DSPs) and real time ad exchanges (RTBs). Advertisers use these tools to organize, bid, and deliver advertisements to users on the Internet (is that Wharton Executive MBA ad still following you around?).

Less well-known (and less established) are the technologies that are just starting to emerge on behalf of the customer: a new generation of what you might call “digital butlers.” (Academics are calling these “customer agents,” “infomediaries,” or 4th parties.) The job of the digital butler is to use your data to negotiate on your behalf. Within the next few years, you might be using customer-agent technologies to do a lot of your work for you, including shopping and negotiating deals directly from marketers to you.

The power of the Wharton brand for our project has been invaluable. With a simple note on LinkedIn (using Wharton and the Mack Institute’s name) we were able to secure top-notch interviews with over 20 key players in the customer data space.

And of course, professors at Wharton have been a huge support, most notably Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing and Co-director of Wharton’s Customer Analytics Initiative. Peter is a data pro; his book “Customer Centricity” is a comprehensive summation of the state of data exploitation in marketing today, and WCAI is a self-described “matchmaker” between academic researchers and top companies who use customer-level data for strategic decisions. I have also relied heavily on research conducted by Professor Joseph Turow, PhD. for his book “The Daily You.”

Overall, I cannot say enough good things about the Mack Institute’s Fellowship program. I urge any students interested in exploring the business applications of emerging technologies to connect with the institute and explore the many resources they offer.

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