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Driving better outcomes with an open approach to data, Sonia Cooper, Microsoft

Sonia Cooper
30th April 2020

Microsoft’s mission to empower every organization on the planet to achieve more, aims to put the tools for building and using AI into the hands of every organisation. Organisations need access to data to be able to employ AI, however access to large data sets and the skills to use data effectively is increasingly concentrated with a small group of companies and countries. Fewer than 100 companies now collect more than 50% of the data generated by online interactions (Microsoft CELA Data Science analysis based on, and and around half of all people with technical AI skills work in the technology sector (according to figures from LinkedIn). Last week, Microsoft announced an Open Data Campaign to close this “data divide”, to address the inequality in data access and to help develop the skills to use it effectively. In doing so, we continue to strive to help every organisation achieve more by making better decisions, and driving better outcomes, when using AI.

With better access to data, together with today’s available computing power and sophisticated algorithms, society has an opportunity to drive breakthroughs in some of the biggest challenges we face, such as in healthcare and our immediate challenge with COVID-19. As part of the Open Data Campaign announcement, Microsoft therefore has committed to make its social impact initiatives “open by default” and explore where data from our sustainability, accessibility, and rural broadband initiatives can be built on to solve real world problems. Microsoft has also committed to develop and support at least 20 data collaborations by 2022, for example, by opening up our own data to these collaborations, helping everyone to understand how to better collaborate and learn from the value of sharing data.

The Open Data Campaign is also helping organisations to adopt a principled approach to data sharing by publishing new principles on how Microsoft approaches sharing data with others. The five principles that will guide our contributions to trusted data collaboration are:

  • Open – We will work to make data that is relevant to important social problems as open as possible, including by contributing open data ourselves
  • Usable – We will invest in creating new technologies and tools, governance mechanisms and policies to make data more usable for everyone
  • Empowering – We will help organizations generate value from their data according to their choices, and develop their AI talent to use data effectively and independently
  • Secure – We will employ security controls to ensure data collaboration is operationally secure where it is desired
  • Private – We will help organizations to protect individuals’ privacy in data-sharing collaborations that involve personally identifiable information

As these principles are adopted, better access to data and data sharing practices will help organisations employ AI to generate insights to address some of society’s biggest challenges and help businesses be more innovative, competitive and productive. To assist in adopting these principles, Microsoft is investing in the essential assets that will make data as open as possible with data sharing frameworks, while helping to keep data as closed as necessary, through the use of privacy preserving tools.

The value of collaboration, over and above organisations going it alone, has already been demonstrated by the open source movement. Sharing the building blocks of applications to foster collaboration can exponentially drive the creation of new solutions. An open and more collaborative approach to the way we use data, with shared goals in mind, will see similar gains in the insights and outcomes we can achieve.

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