Crunching the numbers

Houston workers remain both wary and optimistic of data collection in the workplace, according to a report

According to a new report from Accenture, Houston employees want clarity and control when it comes to data collection and use. Getty Images

Chances are good your employer has a lot of data about you stored away in the company's cloud. The real question is whether or not you trust them with it. According to a new study from Accenture, the jury is still out for Houston employees when it comes to data collection.

Data misuse scandals have stirred the pot quite a bit, and 68 percent of Houston workers surveyed said those events have raised their concern about their employer's use of their data. Similarly, 64 percent of Houstonians are worried their data is vulnerable to a cyber attack. Just over half of the survey respondents are worried about their employer using technology and data to spy on them.

Despite this skepticism, 81 percent of Houston respondents said they would benefit and improve from data-based performance feedback.

"Organizations are sitting on a wealth of data that, if harnessed, can help them unlock the vast potential of their people and business," says Diana McKenzie, chief information officer of California-based Workday Inc., in the report. "A key element is establishing a track record of trust built on ethical, responsible behavior as part of an organization's people strategy. Organizations that have invested in laying this critical foundation have the opportunity to tap into this data, in turn accelerating innovation and creating a workplace that benefits all people."

The general consensus of the study, which surveyed 500 Houston workers and 10,000 workers across the globe, is that employees want control and clarity from their employers when it comes to data collection and use. Of those surveyed in Houston, 66 percent say they are open to data collection if their employer co-created the policies with feedback from their employees. Meanwhile, over 70 percent of employers say they either already do that or plan to co-create technology policies with their workforce.

Here are some key findings from the report.

  • 56 percent of Houston workers are aware that their employer is using workplace apps — like email, instant messaging tools, calendars, etc. — to collect data.
  • 66 percent of survey respondents in Houston are fine with their data being collected as long as they receive personal benefits from the data collection use.
  • 65 percent of Houston workers want to own their own data to take it with them if and when they leave the company. Meanwhile, according to the national report, 58 percent of employers are open to that idea.
  • 65 percent of Houston employees are open to the practice of data collection — as long as C-level executives and the board monitor and are held accountable for responsible use of new technologies and sources of workplace data.
  • 60 percent of Houston workers would consider leaving the company if they learned their superiors didn't responsibly use new technologies and sources of workplace data.
Houston Baptist University has created a program that is training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. Courtesy of HBU

A few years ago, Houston Baptist University realized there was a huge need for more engineering programs within Houston higher education in one area particularly: Cybersecurity.

The school brought in Stan Napper from Louisiana Tech University to become the founding dean of the College of Engineering. The college now has three bachelor's degree programs in cyber engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science.

"Cyber engineering is designing secure systems at the interface of operational technology and information technology," says Napper. "Cyber engineering is in the middle of devices and data. It's in the middle of the hardware and software. And, academically, it's in the middle of electrical engineering and computer science."

The program is the only of its kind in Texas, Napper says. In fact, he says he doesn't know of any other similar programs other than the one he was a part of at Louisiana Tech. However, he does expect that to change. There's a growing need for cybersecurity specialists — especially in the health care and energy industries.

"One of those things that really got my attention a couple of years ago is in 2017, the FDA issued a recall on the over 450,000 pacemakers that had already been implanted," Napper says. "Modern pacemakers now can be controlled remotely through the skin to change the pacing frequency or some other parameters of that pacemaker without having to go back and do another surgery. They discovered a software glitch to a particular brand of pacemaker that could have been exploited."

Thankfully, that glitch wasn't exploited, but it put thousands of people's lives at risk by those technology designers not foreseeing this cybersecurity glitch. Anywhere devices — not just computers or phones — are used remotely or on a network, security is compromised.

Napper has only one year of the program under his belt, but he says he has already seen a lot of interest from the school's advisory board, which is made up of 75 CTO and tech leaders.

"They're lining up to get our students as interns even before we have the students ready," Napper says. "We've only finished our first freshman class."

Napper says the program is on track to have a capacity of 200 to 250 students. At a school like HBU, which has around 3,400 total students, that's a huge chunk of the school's population. Some think the program, considering the need and reception, could grow to 1,000 students.

The courses cover everything within operational and intellectual technology — device design, data science, automation, artificial intelligence — and the students are already getting their hands dirty.

"Our approach to education is learning in context. It is very hands on, but it's not hands off or hands on sake," Napper says. "There's no single class in our inventory of courses where one person stands at the front and talks the whole time. Our students carry their lab with them to class. We changed the definition of a lab. A lab is not the place you go to once a week in order to write a lab report."

This fall, the school will have its inaugural class in sophomore-level courses and a new batch of freshmen. Down the road, Napper says they'll look into creating a master's program.

Michael Tims / Houston Bapitst U