On the heels of a historic summer heat wave, the unseasonably warm fall weather affecting much of the U.S. is a reminder that climate change is worsening. Fortunately, some IT companies are leveraging their data expertise to support public health and environmental sustainability. One of the topics at hand is the need for better data to mitigate urban heat, a social issue that compounds with urbanization.
From 1983 to 2016, urban exposure globally affected nearly 1.7 billion people and increased by about 200%. Since 1978, more than 11,000 Americans have died from heat-related illnesses, including fatigue and cardiac incidents. Another study reveals significant racial and classist urban heat disparities across 71% of all counties in the United States. In addition to creating discomfort for city dwellers, rising urban heat increases energy costs, air pollution levels, and the risk of heat-related illnesses.
So how can IT companies aid urban heat efforts and sustainability initiatives in general? The answer is data stewardship, specifically, master data management. Just as there is a high value in implementing a golden record inside companies, consolidating data that can be shared also enables organizations to collaborate on solutions to the environmental crisis.
Just take IBM as a successful example of data stewardship. Back in the summer, the global IT giant studied the connections between the presence of tree canopies and the urban heat island effect. Analyzing and mapping out vegetation via aerial image data helped them make an important discovery: more substantial tree canopies create cooler temperatures. IBM’s report reveals that areas with a lot of concrete and less vegetation can be more than 10 degrees hotter than surrounding rural areas. By using artificial intelligence and newer data technologies to collect more research, IBM is setting the stage for data giants to deploy their expertise to help the environment.
Better Data Management Needs Master Data Management
In his recent InformationWeek article, Lior Keet, managing director of emerging technology, EY, leads his list of ways CIOs can shape discourse on sustainability with “Obtain trusted data and information.” While plenty of data may be available, the job falls on data analysts to teach organizations how to govern and leverage it successfully.
In his role as the data management maestro for a leading master data management company, Robin Peel advises IT leaders on these essentials for creating a data foundation:
- Understand your data, its structure, and its quality (and its limitations).
- Resolve data quality issues as early as possible during the data’s life cycle.
- Share your data wisely. Otherwise, that data’s lineage (and trust) will be lost, and its value will be diluted.
While typically directed to data managers for some of the world’s largest brands, this advice can also help IT leaders produce more substantial outcomes on public benefit projects. For example, working with the Texas Trees Foundation, which pioneered a groundbreaking study on the urban heat island effect in Dallas, I supported the medical anthropologist and research strategist in charge of a joint urban forestry initiative in strengthening their data foundation.
Working with the team in charge of data for the Southwestern Medical District (SWMD) Streetscape Project, I noticed they encountered some of the same challenges that CIOs face regarding data management. This includes finding the balance between choosing a platform that is safe from cyber-attacks while prioritizing accessibility so team members can collaborate with one another. Additionally, many CIOs face the outgrowth of digitalization today, which puts pressure on companies to accelerate transformations without a solid data strategy.
Data is an asset that needs to be managed and governed carefully to fully leverage its potential, especially with large volumes that are accumulating in real-time. But it is not just the technical aspects that need control—it is equally important to have clarity over the ownership and processes for sharing that data, especially when a wide community of users is so excited to leverage, analyze and report upon new data feeds.
“The data management support that Semarchy provided has been invaluable,” said Dr. Rose Jones of the Southwest Medical District. “It has provided us with a solid framework to build a stellar research platform, positioning us to launch urban design and public health initiatives within the SWMD Streetscape Project earlier and with more fortitude than would have otherwise been possible.”
This top-down strategy allows organizations like the Texas Trees Foundation to foster a more strategic focus on data stewardship. Solving environmental and public health initiatives starts with analyzing, governing, and managing our data through a holistic approach.
Now is the time to implement more comprehensive data strategies both within companies and for multi-sector collaborations. If organizations can provide transparent datasets that are accessible and collaborative, we will continue making progress to combat the urban heat crisis and create a more sustainable society.
About the Author
Robin Peel is Semarchy’s data management maestro, enabling customers to extract the maximum value from Semarchy’s unified data platform. Robin has worked in data governance and master data management for more than 20 years, initially with a startup, later with Oracle Corporation, EY, and now with Semarchy. His roles have included data modeling, implementation, training, product strategy and customer success. His current role combines deep technical expertise with the ability to communicate effectively with senior business and IT leadership. A meteorology graduate of the University of Reading, England, Robin relocated to the United States in 1993 in search of better weather. Today, Robin makes his home in Seattle and is still seeking better weather.