Usually, predictions for a new year are brimming with optimism for a future yet unfurled. But 2018 is a roaring exception, given it’s the grand finale of decisions made back in 2016. Yes, perhaps we should have seen much of this coming, but few did. Hold onto your hats, because 2018 is almost upon us and it’s going to be a rough ride. The good news is that we’ll likely all be better off on the other side for having gone through these ‘data growing pains.’

So, what lies ahead that snuck up on us from behind?

At least one global company will be fined millions due to GDPR non-compliance.

In today’s global, digital economy, companies are collecting more data than ever on their customers. That data is becoming more diverse and complex, stemming from different sources and in different formats. The creation and exchange of data has also increased significantly as Bring-your-own-data (the new BYOD) and enterprise collaboration software have grown to become a mainstay in the modern workplace. 

But while we were all busy collecting that data and figuring out the best way to use it to our company’s advantage, the countdown to EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) effective date quickly clicks by. It’s a heavyweight data privacy law that takes effect on May 25, 2018 and the fines for non-compliance are hefty. Yes, 2018 is the year we all realize something huge happened in 2016 – April 14, 2016, to be exact. That was the day the GDPR was finally approved by the EU Parliament.

Compliance is as much a data management issue as it is a regulation and security issue. Companies are well-advised to complete deployments on all three fronts asap. Even so, one or more giant companies will stumble big this year and get hit with mega-million-dollar fines.

In 2018, ethical lines will be drawn detailing data morality (a.k.a. data virtue).

Data privacy grows up next year and becomes a much bigger and more pressing issue around the world. Consumers are giving companies more information than they’re even aware of with every purchase and search. In 2018, data and the ‘morality/virtue’ of using that data will come to a crossroads. Organizations collect mass amounts of information on their customers, and while the EU is aggressively moving forward with privacy regulations like GDPR, there is still ‘a lot of grey area’ when it comes to the ethical implications of third parties gaining this amount of information on its clients.

GDPR has already demonstrated that the government can regulate companies’ possession of data, but can they also put strongholds on how they use that data? Regulators and companies alike will be grappling with this question. Legally defining a line between helpful and hurtful use of consumer data will become the quest of the year.

Most companies will seek to address these issues proactively, rather than be subjected to perhaps excessive and even contradicting regulations among the various governments around the world. As a result, expect data morality to become a hot topic.

Machine Learning (ML) explodes and then backlashes.

2017 saw AI hype explode, with companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and more pledging embedded AI in everything. However, intelligence is only as good as its data. While 2018 will usher in organizations refining their AI, machine learning and deep learning algorithms to leverage company and third-party data for the improvement of the broader customer experience, only three percent will be working with reasonably accurate data. Unless companies get a handle on their data to ensure 100 percent accuracy, ML and AI algorithms could be learning from flawed data, resulting in inaccurate analytics and erroneous prediction, leading to poor business decisions. That in turn will fuel a consumer backlash against companies and their machines, as anger over incorrect outcomes and inappropriate results, in addition to lost jobs and wages resulting from general automation.

Companies will be busted for promotional fake news.

By now we’ve all heard of Fake News as it is applied to news outlets, but this next wave is a bit different. This is fake information distributed to promote goods and services beyond what they actually deliver, in an effort to increase sales. It’s marketing gone bad. This is not a new or emerging trend as it has been around for a while, but 2018 will be the year companies finally get punished for the practice. Expect brand loyalties to plummet and consumer suspicions to escalate. Tech companies will undergo serious financial penalties for not removing fake news or banned content. It will be imperative for companies to implement a data strategy for maintaining credibility among the public and the companies leveraging their sites.

Social media data companies will be increasingly regulated.

Social platforms are now viewed as the “new media” and therefore have a social responsibility to manage their public output. First regulators will try to combat nation-state election manipulation and other fraudulent and fake news by imposing the same regulation on social media as is currently applied to news media. But that will be replaced with laws that require responsibility and accountability for clean and accurate data from all social platforms. The more data these platforms have, the harder it is for them to discern what’s real and what’s fake. In 2018, it will be imperative for social media companies to implement a data strategy to maintain credibility among the public and the companies leveraging their sites.

Companies will need an audio/visual data strategy to survive in 2018 and beyond.

Gartner predicted that “by 2021, early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30 percent.” As such, organizations will need to develop strategies to collect, cleanse and analyze audio/visual data. There will no longer be a distinction between structured and unstructured data. Companies will have to be able to ingest all types of data, no matter file format, clean it, qualify it and use it responsibly.

If you detected a theme of data responsibility and accountability in these 2018 predictions, you’re right! Along with this push in all things data related, there will also be an upsurge in new data veracity products and services that incorporate entire communities and/or data supply chains. However, as 2018 unfolds, the odds are good that everyone will be better off – organizations and consumers alike – for finally having established data privacy and morality standards that will keep us all honest and accountable.

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