Portretfoto Karim Sidaoui
Portretfoto Karim Sidaoui

'We help Microsoft take a step towards the responsible use of big data'

The amount of data being collected continues to rise. Companies cannot do without big data either. Karim Sidaoui, assistant professor of Marketing (part of Business Administration) prepares students for the future. 'Being able to work with data analysis tools is useful, but even more important is learning how to use them responsibly.' 

Big data has become an integral part of our society. Various parties, companies, institutions, and even the government, collect huge amounts of data. Companies can use this data to conduct predictive market research: which products are customers more likely to buy? In turn, consumers get customised offers via algorithms. The government uses algorithms and big data to assess risks and develop smart policies. In short, data-driven applications are promising and powerful, but also have risks: think of privacy violations or algorithms that lead to sexism or discrimination. 'That is why it is so important that we train students in the responsible use of data and data analysis tools,' Karim underlines. 

The software programs that allow you to extract knowledge from those huge datasets are developing rapidly. Nowadays, these analysis tools often use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) techniques. These developments require different skills and competences from our students; the future business analysts, consultants and managers, says Karim. With the elective course 'Data Analytics for Responsible Business Solutions', he tries to prepare his students for the future. The course will be part of the ‘Responsible Digitalisation’ Master’s specialisation that Sidaoui and his colleagues are currently developing. 

What exactly does the course entail? 

'In the course, students get to work with PowerBI, a big data analysis tool developed by Microsoft. Not only do they get to work with the program and learn how to analyse data, they especially learn to critically reflect on exactly what they are doing. You can simply go through the tutorial of the software program in steps. But we teach students to consider at each step what the consequences might be: is privacy guaranteed? Don't these algorithms lead to sexism or discrimination? Mastering the technology is one thing, but learning to use and manage it responsibly is equally important.' 

'I wanted to make a positive social contribution' 

The purpose of the course reflects Sidaoui's own career path and insights. A computer scientist with an MBA (Master of Business Administration), he worked in software and retail internationally for many years. Until he decided to return to university. 'I was helping companies make more money, which is okay in principle, but I lacked meaning. I wanted to make a positive social contribution. Now, I help students develop their independent critical thinking skills, so that they can navigate this complex world and manage ethical dilemmas together with managers, developers and other stakeholders in companies and society. The shift to responsible data use and management doesn’t happen overnight. It is a slow process, but it starts with critical reflection.'  

A key pillar of the course is collaboration with various partners?  

'True, the course is unique within the faculty. We work with all kinds of partners, both inside and outside the university. Our colleagues from the Information & Library Services (ILS) division, for example, provide the technical infrastructure. Furthermore, Microsoft is an important partner in this course. That cooperation offers many opportunities. It gives students not only theoretical knowledge, but also practical experience with Microsoft's advanced tools and platforms which are in high demand in businesses'.  

Shouldn't we be wary of the clutches of tech giants like Microsoft? 

'Big tech companies like Microsoft are often publicly criticised because of the aforementioned risks associated with data and technology analytics. We can start pointing fingers and condemning the companies, but that won't change anything. Nor can we prevent companies from using software like PowerBI. What we can do is collaborate, to come up with solutions together. Our students, with their responsible mindset, can help improve the culture and social impact of companies like Microsoft. Working together is often better than working against each other.’  

'The collaboration is truly a win-win situation for this course. Microsoft provides its analysis tool and we train the students in its responsible use. The students reflect and write about the potential negative consequences and ethical dilemmas they faced. Microsoft, on their turn, supports them in publishing the results on its website for others to benefit from. In this way, we in turn help Microsoft take a step forward on the long road to dealing responsibly with data and AI.'  

Text: Inge Mutsaers

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Current affairs, Artificial intelligence (AI), Education