When the former director of scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals, a sports analytics “expert,” pleaded guilty in January to hacking the roster of the Houston Astros, it was a sad moment for the game of baseball, and indeed for all sports. No one likes a cheater.
But that particular sordid tale of data hacking isn’t just about what happened in Major League Baseball. Indeed, as businesses and organizations of all shapes and sizes continue to seize the rapidly growing opportunities presented by data and analytics, the risks associated with the unprincipled use of analytics and the imperative for established standards for ethical behavior by those involved in analytics likewise grow even stronger.
Last October Gartner predicted that over the next three years, 50% of business ethics violations will be traced to improper use of analytics.
"Although big data and advanced analytics projects risk many of the same pitfalls as traditional projects, in most cases, these risks are accentuated due to the volume and variety of data, or the sophistication of advanced analytics capabilities," said Gartner’s research director.
A paper by Carnegie Mellon researchers raised a red flag about the analytics behind Google job search ads, revealing that Google’s analytical modeling serves ads for a career coaching service for higher-paying jobs to men more frequently than it does to women. Other research and publications have also pointedly raised concerns and risks regarding the perils associated with breaches or questionable use of data.
These concerns have risen all the way to the White House, where at a recent conference DJ Patil, the White House chief data scientist, emphasized, "My ask is that every training course, every curriculum, every MOOC, every college class, every professional degree, every program at a company has a data ethics curriculum that is intrinsic – not some bolt on, but intrinsic – to the training of every data scientist, every computer scientist, every data engineer, every data operations person."
DJ Patil is right, but we don’t need to reply to his call for action from scratch, nor do we need a patchwork of differing ethical guidelines. An established code of ethical behavior for analytics professionals already exists.
That code is part and parcel of the Certified Analytics Professional Program (CAP) – a highly regarded professional certification for analytics practitioners managed by INFORMS – the largest international association of professionals in analytics and operations research.
Among other things, the code establishes certain standards for those who call themselves analytics professionals and guidelines for how they should behave and be judged by their peers and employers.
For example, the CAP Code of Ethics states, “All professionals have societal obligations to perform their work in a professional, competent, and ethical manner.”
It goes on to say, “Analytics professionals have a responsibility to promote the effective and efficient use of analytical methods by all members of research teams and to respect the ethical obligations of members of other disciplines. … Misconduct broadly includes all professional dishonesty, by commission or omission, and, within the realm of professional activities and expression, all harmful disrespect for people, unauthorized or illegal use of their intellectual and physical property.”
No code of ethics will prevent bad actors from acting badly.
But establishing an ethics code for analytics professionals and requiring them to adhere to it is an important psychological motivator for the vast majority of practitioners who strive to do the right thing – as well for giving confidence to an organization’s customers, stakeholders, or fan base – that it too holds itself and the people it does business with to the highest possible standards.
CAP, and its code of ethics, does just that.
(About the author: Scott Nestler is an associate teaching professor in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. Also, he is the past chair of the INFORMS Analytics Certification Board and a lead author of the Code of Ethics for the Certified Analytics Professional program. This post originally appeared on his ISACA blog).
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