Experts share big ideas in Cornell roundtable sessions

“Data is the new oil”

Technology Hospitality Entrepreneurship

Photo courtesy of Mona Anita K. Olsen
Linda Priebe discusses General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) at the Technology Hospitality Entrepreneurship Roundtable at Cornell University.

Mona Anita K. Olsen, PhD, & Matthew Federici
Cornell University

More than two dozen industry leaders met in Ithaca, N.Y., in April for The Really Big Idea Sketchpad approach to the Technology Hospitality Entrepreneurship Roundtable, hosted by the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. The roundtable challenged attendees to be mindful and creative throughout four thematic discussion sessions. Each participant was asked to create a concept over the course of the day, with the goal of making a difference in the hospitality industry using the entrepreneurial tool called the Really Big Idea Sketchpad ( Frames for discussions were created by using tools from, including one framework called the Ladder of Inference.

The Really Big Idea Sketchpad was reviewed at a high level as the conceptual frame for the four discussions of the day. The first session was called the Big C (Users, Buyers, and Economic Decision Makers) and reviewed a parallax gap approach to customers. The session included a discussion of the multiple ways that a customer could be defined in a sales process (such as selling technology to decision makers, line-level employees, and/or end-users) and at what point each customer segmentation exhibits information (data) fatigue. It also explored the versatility of guest profiles and the ways technology can best capture the guest’s preferences in advance of their lodging stays.

The second session was called the Big P (Team, Experience, and Knowledge) and reviewed technology in the evaluation of people. The discussion debated augmentation vs. automation in customer relationship management and emphasized which touch points can be the most impactful in hospitality efforts.

The third session was called the Big O (Product, Service, and Solution). It named and described trust in the technology offering. The discussion revolved around guest engagement with technology in alignment with the question “when is the impact cool vs. creepy?” Three elements were highlighted, discussed, and debated, including transparency, integrity, and control; the distinction between security and privacy; and the tradeoff between convenience and privacy.

The final session was called the Big V (offerings to the buyers and customers) and introduced social media policies to support the value creation narrative for entrepreneurs. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was discussed in the digital marketing realm. GDPR covers a variety of elements including surveillance but most importantly, the right to be forgotten and the right of portability. In the EU, if a person is identifiable, a person is protected under EU privacy protection law. The idea of information fatigue was discussed again and a layered approach to informed consent and a “just in time” process was suggested for consent. This roundtable session was a direct follow-up to Linda Priebe’s guest lecture in the Cornell University course Global Conversations with Entrepreneurs.

Linda Priebe

Photo courtesy of Mona Anita K. Olsen
Linda Priebe (left) receives a pineapple and a certificate from the School of Hotel Administration.Linda Priebe (left) receives a pineapple and a certificate from the School of Hotel Administration.

Priebe is a partner at Culhane Meadows PLLC, helping companies avoid EU protection regulators through prevention, working on social media legal compliance, and translating legal policies into plain language. Students in the class engaged with Priebe on a variety of different concepts related to GDPR. The discussion began with the latest Facebook data scandal. Priebe loves Facebook. However, she noted that Facebook needs to explain itself better to consumers, so they understand how it works from a business perspective.

A recent Harvard University Study found that only two pieces of personal information and a zip code is all that is required to find what a person is currently doing. Concerning Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Priebe noted that there was no difference in the software they used compared to any other data collection firm. Facebook initially denied the allegations against them on Twitter and tried to make it into a data breach. However, it was simply a break of trust. Priebe made it clear that few people understand Facebook’s business model, as shown through Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress. Nevertheless, the hearings revealed that Zuckerberg could be steps ahead due to his understanding of the importance of data.

Priebe emphasized the importance for a company’s senior management and stakeholders to protect their value to the firm. However, management must not ignore concerns from company representatives. Whistleblowers can be a huge problem, as they can endanger the security of customers and brand image and affect the bottom line.

The United Kingdom Parliament wants Zuckerberg to testify as well. The European Union Data Protection Regulators have been suing companies like Google and Facebook for years. At one point, it was even illegal to use Google Analytics in the European Union. The European Union has much stricter data laws than the United States. The EU has held multiple hearings in America about American companies processing EU data. The EU can force companies into bankruptcy if they do not comply with EU laws. Every company within European Union standards has a Data Protection Officer on the management team. The EU can also force any company to comply with EU laws. On the other hand, the United States does not even have federal laws on data. Each state has its own laws about user data. This forces companies to comply with 50 different state laws. California is starting to adopt laws similar to the EU model.

The class and the roundtable discussed how technology is advancing faster than the law. Industries are taking advantage of the lack of development of ethical codes. Transparency about what is being done with data and the implications are key in analyzing the effective use of collecting, with the key question being “will this put the customer at risk?” The place to start is considering what data to collect. When looking at tech startups that thrive on data, the more data one has, the more insights and profits it brings. As Priebe said, “data is the new oil.”

Mona Anita K. Olsen is an assistant professor at the School of Hotel Administration in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business in Ithaca, N.Y. She is also the founder of Innovation Barn 58N6E and the 501c3 iMADdu (I make a difference, do you?) Inc.

This article originally appeared in the June 1, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Mona Anita K. Olsen

Mona Anita K. Olsen

Mona Anita K. Olsen, Ph.D. is a British-American entrepreneurial academic based in Norway. She holds an academic appointment as an associate professor at the University of Southeastern Norway. As a Ph.D. student, Olsen was a U.S. Fulbright Grantee to Norway in 2012-2013; she continues to follow her dream in progress to make a difference in entrepreneurial education in Norway as a fourth-generation owner of Innovation Barn in Borhaug alongside her daughter and husky named Buddy Grunder. Learn more at