Polish banking, energy and public services weigh up benefits of big data applications

For many Polish institutions big data is still only in the planning stage, but banks and the energy and public sectors are beginning to use the technology

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: CW Europe - November 2014 Edition

For companies and institutions in Poland, big data is primarily a buzzword, a topic of discussion and in the sphere of planning. But banks have gone a stage further in starting to use big data technologies.

Some 36% of companies in Poland believe the analysis of large datasets can improve management decision-making processes, according to an EMC study, which polled 256 managers responsible for making decisions in IT matters, technical architects, data analysts and administrators of storage systems and infrastructure.

However, 43% of the companies surveyed do not plan to implement systems to analyse large datasets. Why? The most important factors while making business IT decisions are budgetary considerations, reported 78% of respondents. 

The biggest obstacle for deploying big data analytics systems is a lack of convincing business arguments for such actions: 45% indicate return of investment as uncertain for big data; and 69% said their companies already have the knowledge and IT tools for their business objectives and do not need big data. The uncertainty associated with using new technology also discourages them, says Adam Wojtkowski, CEO of EMC Poland.

Big data in the spotlight

Wojtkowski says banks, telecom operators, oil and energy companies, and public institutions are the organisations most interested in exploiting big data. Over 70% of Poles have bank accounts or use a variety of banking products and services. Banking is the first sector of the economy, and collects huge amounts of data; so too does telecommunications.

The energy sector, including gas distribution, is another area acquiring large datasets.

The energy and telecoms industries use more and more high-tech devices, creating better quality services with their help. New generations of meters are equipped not only with simple “on” and “off” functions, but also – in conjunction with other devices and software – the functions of simultaneous control, testing and analysis of services provided.

Big data in Polish energy utilities

Energy companies are beginning to recognise they have very large resources of unstructured data. In the analysis of these data they see an opportunity to optimise energy supply, reduce energy loss and improve energy efficiency, which recently has become a legal requirement, says Slawomir Strzykowski, platform application manager at Microsoft Poland.

Polish energy companies have been conducting tests before constructing a smart grid. One such company, Energa, can already boast of advanced metering deployment AMI (advanced metering infrastructure), which is the first step in the construction of a smart grid. Now smart meters support more than 250 thousand Energa customers. 

Ultimately, Energa intends to deploy 4.5 million meters. After this it wants to implement a big data system that will enable it to widen its portfolio of existing services; for example, with ongoing control of energy consumption in an hourly profile as a special application reviewed on computers and smartphones; and offers of new tariffs.

Big data in Polish public sector agencies

The public sector has also found it has substantial datasets, for example information collected by the social insurance agency Zaklad Ubezpieczen Spolecznych (ZUS). A few years ago the Polish government created a separate Ministry of Administration and Digitisation. This allows government to manage more effectively various types of data under the authority of the public administration. It could improve the quality of services provided by public institutions, says Michał Boni, former minister of administration and digitisation.

ZUS representatives suggest there is currently no way to prevent epidemics or to personalise medical services without high-speed data processing.

Dariusz Spiewak, CIO at ZUS, says: “Big data is a sign that current, laborious statistical methods are not sufficient. Today we should move to more efficient methods of data analysis.”

However, some expectations about big data simply arouse amazement. ZUS officials have stated that the combination of data from the EWUS system (electronic verification of beneficiaries entitled to publish health services) about how and why people have been cured, with data taken from social media, enable ZUS to implement new levels of public health control. Officials will be able to check whether a citizen is really unwell when taking sick leave – or taking a holiday under the guise of medical treatment.

Big data in Polish banks

A number of companies and institutions using large datasets have found opportunities in big data. However, the public announcement of the Alior Bank authorities – the first Polish financial institution that decided to build a team of experts for analysing data about its customers – sparked substantial debate in Poland.

“We want to use data from social media, data about customer behaviour on the internet, and combine them with data taken from telecoms operators,” said Michal Hucal, vice-president of Alior Bank. He stressed that the goal is customer profiling. On the basis of data from various sources, the bank wants to describe their needs, habits and consumer preferences. It will be the first step to prepare offers tailored to individual needs.

But the plan aroused provoked intense criticism, with accusations that the bank will sell customers' data without their consent. The controversy intensified after Alior Bank rejected the credit request of one customers, because its analytics system suggested the customer had once defaulted on paying a fine.

With the reputation of Alior Bank in the balance, bank president Wojciech Sobieraj decided to take the floor and try to fend off detractors' criticisms, making assurances that Alior Bank did not take, and will never take, action outside the law.

Data protection and legal concerns

This case made a wider audience realise that banks and payment card operators had already collected an enormous pool of data about their customers: that banks know what and where customers buy, when they need money and when they have money to access. Customers also realised the powerful market tool such data afforded the banking sector.

“There is no doubt that processing personal data in large data stores requires detailed legal regulations,” says Natalia Gawel, the attorney of KSP Legal & Tax Advice in Katowice.

But existing Polish law does not regulate direct data collection and analysis with a view to profiling individuals.

“Clients reveal some of the information quite deliberately, some unwittingly and some – although kept in private – are often illegally collected,” warns Dariusz Wichniewicz, director of telecommunications services at the ATM, the company running the largest data centres in Poland.

“A huge part of data, taken by bank from its own repositories, from internet resources and social media have been transferred with the consent of the person concerned. This consent is given through the acceptance of the bank’s regulations. If the bank knows where and how often someone is shopping, it is because the client has agreed to it processing such data," says Gawel.

"He did it by accepting the rules of services provided. It is worth reading such documents.”

Michal Panowicz, CMO at mBank, stresses that banks operate in the most strictly regulated sector of the economy. “He or she who is afraid of big data in banks should at first read about how far invigilation of a person can reach.”

Big data key to sales success

One of the repeated definitions of big data is of datasets too large, or with too complex structures, or which change too quickly, to be processed effectively with the traditional tools of a classical database and servers with limited performance. More arguments for collecting and analysing large datasets derived from marketing departments, which want to describe accurately the needs and preferences of each prospective customer.

“Strong motivators for deploying analytics tools come from the use of customer relationship management (CRM) and customer experience,” remarks Krzysztof Szachna, sales director at Oracle Poland. 

“Our experience says such motivators appear at almost every attempt to deploy big data solutions. In a situation where the preferred channel of communication is virtual contact with customers – email, chat, smartphone, or social media – there appears a need to ‘learn a client’s preferences’, their ‘digital body language’, or to create their ‘behavioral profile’. It turns out that the use of big analytics systems is a response to customer needs and a way of improving customer service.”

Grzegorz Blazewicz, CEO at SalesManago, argues that big data in the form of marketing automation systems are the future of banking, telecommunications, energy and any services provided to thousands and millions of customers. They work by identifying and monitoring the behaviour and, above all, by instant reaction to consumers' needs.

“When a customer clicks on the icon ‘cash loan’ on the bank’s website, in a few minutes the big data banking system will send him an SMS or an email with the offer of a loan tailored ‘just for you’,” predicts Blazewicz.

Next Steps

How to make sure your big data apps are ready for production

Read more on Master data management (MDM) and integration

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