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Aggregates sector’s ‘big data’ legal implications

First publishedon www.AggBusiness.com
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More and more aggregates producers are considering how data can improve their business thanks to advances in technology and a need to remain competitive in the face of rising production costs. Ben Travers, partner and head of intellectual property and IT at Stephens Scown LLP, explores the legal issues that surround big data and data analytics.

Referred to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or the industrial internet of things, we are experiencing a rapid evolution where intelligent products, processes and technologies are converging and are able to communicate with each other. The scale is huge, with Accenture estimating that the industrial internet of things could add US$14.2 trillion to the world economy over the next 15 years.

For the aggregates sector this has the potential to transform the way operations are run with a more connected aggregates production process and real-time data sharing. By connecting data between production equipment and systems, it will be possible to get a more holistic view of operations.

Innovative use of data has the potential to improve efficiency, productivity and safety and whilst the impact on margins and the bottom line will be of interest to operators, the legal issues arising from data must not be forgotten.

Know your data

This is no longer the preserve of the sector’s biggest operators. Technology is getting simpler, easier to use and less costly, opening it up to smaller aggregates operators.

This means that most aggregates businesses will find that they have access to all sorts of data, which they may want to analyse and interrogate. Before launching into a data analytics project however, from a legal point of view it is important to know where your data comes from.

If you do not own the data, you will need to check what permissions you have to use it. For example, a supplier may have provided you with data which you are allowed to use for a particular purpose only. If you would like to use the data for a different or additional purpose you will have to seek express permission from your supplier for this.

Database rights

The data and information your business holds may end up being one of your most valuable assets. That is why database rights are important and will help you to protect and exploit this asset.

Many people do not realise that the organisation that creates a database retains a legal right to its use. Rights like copyright arise through the creation of something new, but with database rights, your right is due to the hard work in collecting and presenting the data. This could include sales records, extracts from research reports and customer lists.

Database rights will provide you with protection from misuse of the data, but it may also be possible to license your data to maximise its potential to generate revenue for you. For this reason, it is something that you should not overlook.

Data protection

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) heralded a seismic shift in the way organisations can process data. If your data has the potential to identify individuals, you must handle it in a way that is compliant with GDPR. This includes considerations such as where and how the data is stored, how it is analysed and ensuring that you have permission to use the data in the way you wish.

Confidential information

There is no automatic right that arises to protect information that is confidential or commercially sensitive. If the data you are handling falls into this category, it is imperative to put carefully worded legal agreements in place to preserve its confidentiality. An exception is in an employee/employer relationship where there is an automatic duty of confidentiality.

It may take a number of years for the full potential of big data and data analytics to be felt in the aggregates sector. The businesses which will benefit most from this revolution will understand how it can improve their operation, while not forgetting the legal implications.

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Stephens Scown

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