Just as billions of fibres make a big sofa, billions of customer decisions make big data. It’s clear what to do with the sofa, but big data remains somewhat of a mystery to many companies. Potential is lost here.
For the first time, the ‘Textile Technology Talks’ took place at Heimtextil 2020. Experts gave talks on future issues in the home textiles sector, such as digitising production and the prospects for textile products in smart homes. Dr. Frederik Cloppenburg also chose a ground-breaking subject with his lecture “How big data in production can become big business”. The scientist, from the Institute for Textile Technology at the Technical University of Aachen (Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen – RWTH Aachen), cast some light on the enormous gap between wishes and reality in this subject area.
Artificial intelligence alone is not enough
According to Cloppenburg, most companies want the following kind of big data: the management board meets with experts; expensive data specialists programme software or an app, and within a short space of time they generate a lot of money by reading customer data. “But then they’re all utterly amazed when it goes completely wrong”, says Cloppenburg, exploding the data dream. Unfortunately, he says, there is no wonder software to magically and easily convert digital connections into money.
Companies who want to use data about purchasing behaviour in order to increase their productivity actually need to ask themselves the following questions: how do we collect customer data in the first place? How do we evaluate them? Which data do we use for what? “Artificial intelligence is useless without natural intelligence”, RWTH scientist Cloppenburg urges. However, if we respect this ground rule, big data can contribute enormously to optimising production, for example, in predicting trends or producing individualised products more cheaply.
Respect big data protection
Those who talk about big data these days should think about ‘big data protection’ at the same time. An example of this is the shopping app from the furniture manufacturer Ikea. This provides its users daily with furnishing suggestions, based on their preferences and clicking behaviour. Their search for sofas and chairs etc. is customised, with every piece of furniture they like and products they save ‘for later’. At the same time, the Swedish furniture giant doesn’t want to see artificial intelligence as the sole criterion. “Data protection is very important to us”, says Barbara Martin Coppola, the Ikea group’s chief digital officer. On a practical level, this means that users need to decide for themselves which data they want to share with the company when browsing and searching. And buyers can also choose how long they want their user data to be stored. “We want to ensure that our customers feel as safe online as they do at home”, says Ms. Martin Coppola.