Dr Imad Hobballah, Chairman & CTO, TRA, Lebanon

Interview: Chairman & CTO, TRA Lebanon: “There is no doubt that big data analytics are going to transform how businesses.”

Dr Imad Hobballah, Chairman & CTO, TRA, Lebanon
Dr Imad Hobballah, Chairman & CTO, TRA, Lebanon

Ahead of his appearance at the Broadband World Forum, taking place on the 21st – 23rd October 2014 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam,  we catch up with Dr Imad Hobballah, is Chairman & CTO, of the TRA, the Lebanese regulatory body. Dr Imad is speaking in the Big Data Analytics track on Day One of the conference, and here he tells us more about where Big Data might take us over the next five years and address some of the privacy issues it might throw up.

What impact will the implementation and use of big data have over the next five years?

There is no doubt that big data analytics are going to transform how businesses operate and make decisions, and shift where and how value gets created in most sectors. In the near future, corporations who did not have a big data strategy in place would be at a major competitive disadvantage. The firms with a working big data program will be able to better identify new trends quicker and take advantage of these trends, whereas firms without such a program will be forced to react to developments – a fact that could drive some corporations out of business.

Telcos have a wealth of information that they can use to improve their products, become more responsive to customer demands, and locate new sources of revenue. By examining user behaviour, providers can offer personalized recommendations for products and services. Customer service can also be improved as representatives concentrate on the need of individual users separately.

What’s the best case study of big data use that you’ve seen?

I remember the case of Dr. Russ Altman, a professor of medicine at Stanford, and his colleagues who made a ground-breaking discovery when they found that when taken together, Paxil, the blockbuster antidepressant prescribed to millions of Americans, and Pravachol, a highly popular cholesterol‐reducing drug, have a dreadful side effect. They increase patients’ blood glucose to diabetic levels. However, each drug taken alone does not have the diabetic side effects. Altman and his team made their discovery by pursuing statistical analysis and data mining techniques to identify patterns in large datasets maintained by the FDA.

Will regulatory and security concerns hold back big data as an effective tool?

I believe that to answer the questions of privacy and data protection, attitudes of individual users need to be explored and taken into account. According to some surveys on individual attitudes to privacy, 74 per cent of respondents considered online disclosure of information as an increasing part of daily life! A majority expressed concerns over the recording of their behaviour via mobile phones, payment cards and mobile Internet, but 58 per cent saw no alternative to disclosure of personal information if they wanted to obtain products and services. So, big data is expected to continue to grow as an effective tool despite the security and privacy concerns.

On the other hand, big data providers find their way to comply with regulations such as the European Directive, where personal data must not be transferred to countries outside the European Economic Area that are judged to have inadequate personal data protection measures. To comply with this directive, Amazon has created a European Cloud to provide customers with confidence that data will not cross borders in breach of the Directive.

Is big data the opportunity that telcos need to get them involved with verticals?

Telcos need to become more data-centric and take lessons from agile data analytics models that are currently being pursued by over-the-top operators. Telco operators can study how users are using their devices and services and analyze them for opportunities to provide new products and better value for their users. For instance, if a carrier can provide video conferencing with better call quality than an OTT player, it’s likely that customers will turn to the carrier to provide these services.

Telco operators can identify a customer’s location when she/he enters a certain area and correlate demographic usage to create targeted offers and promotions. Another example is analysing real-time network traffic from large users to manage capacity more efficiently to minimize network slowdowns.

What are you most looking forward to about attending the Broadband World Forum this year?

I am expecting an event that attracts a great array of industry experts willing to share their experiences and exchange views on latest technology trends. I am looking forward to exchanging opinions and views regarding the opportunities and challenges of the emerging technologies such as big data vis-à-vis the whole telecom industry.

BBWF14-BrandingThe Broadband World Forum is taking place on the 21st – 23rd October 2014 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. Click here to download a brochure for the event.


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