Future role of data in MENA economies – Ft. Ihab Ilyas

It is no doubt that data science is becoming an integral part of doing business more than ever before. In a Business Forward exclusive interview during AUC’s Business Forum – hosted by the AUC School of Business,  Ihab Ilyas, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, explains the opportunities and challenges of capitalizing on what is regarded as the ‘new oil’ – AKA data.

How important is data set to become in the near to medium-term future?

Well, we’ve all heard that data is important; people call it the new oil. And that’s kind of an old saying now; people are past the hurdle of realizing why data is important because now it’s everywhere. We’ve seen unicorns created just based on the idea of owning data – data of users, user experiences, data about oil and gas, products, etc. So people realize that data has a monetary value, so the return on investment on data has become clearer than ever. So selling the idea of how data is important has become obsolete. We’re now in the next phase, which is how exactly do we realize that value: People are now believers, and now we need to move into innovation around data, and how to unleash its value to drive businesses, create new lines of businesses, change policies and decision making.

How crucial is data quality to business education?

I think data quality is a big problem, and it’s one of the problems that has been overlooked in the past, but not anymore. So if we are now passing the hurdle of building machine-learning models, AI, and people start to realize that AI is going to take over the world, AI researchers are still struggling with the quality of the data to feed into their models, and now the attention of business, economy and also academic research, is shifting towards the quality of this data.

How to maintain it? How to make sure it doesn’t have contradictions? What’s fake? What’s incorrect? What’s correct?

So reasoning about what we collect and moving from treating it as facts to seeing them as observations that require further validation, and sometimes enrichment, removing errors and figuring out what’s missing, is the only way now to make this data valuable. That’s besides the analytics, which has seen more maturity in the last few years.

How does data enable an entrepreneurial environment?

Existing businesses can definitely accelerate around data, but also data is creating new businesses. There’s a whole slew of new startups built just around data as a first class product, as opposed to a side product. Not only data can be an important product for existing businesses, but it will create new lines of businesses as well.

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