There is an enormous amount of scientific potential in anonymized mobile phone data – as Invenium co-founder Michael Cik recognised as early as 2013. At that time, he initiated the research project together with his colleagues at TU Graz’s Institute of Highway Engineering and Transport Planning and the Know Center (Austria's leading research centre for big data and artificial intelligence) AGETOR. The researchers developed a software-based monitoring system that analyses movement flows and supports emergency organizations at major events in order to identify location-specific safety-critical situations in good time. The intelligent algorithms were then developed at the Know Center by two young doctoral students and Invenium co-founders. Christopher Horn and Gunnar Schulze.
Utilizability of scientific findings
The project was successful, the anonymization and evaluation algorithms worked, and have since been further developed at the Institute of Highway Engineering and Transport Planning and the Know Center on the basis of new projects. "Using anonymized mobile phone data, we can, for example, draw conclusions about mobility behaviour, derive traffic patterns and develop new traffic and mobility concepts for cities and regions," explains Cik. However, the research funds for basic research come less from Austria and more from Switzerland in order to explain pure movement patterns by causes of mobility," says Martin Fellendorf, head of the Institute of Highway Engineering and Transport Planning.
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The basic data for the motion flow analyses in the AGETOR project came from A1 even then. The mobile phone provider saw the increasing demand for mobile phone data as a new business area, but there was a lack of development know-how. This motivated Michael Cik and two Know Center colleagues Christopher Horn and Gunnar Schulze to found Invenium as a spin-off of TU Graz and the Know Center at the end of 2016. At the ideal time, as Cik appreciates: "We also wanted to commercialise the research results, and the entry of A1 as a strategic partner of Invenium 2017 was a logical step and a win-win situation for all sides."
Method combines data protection and innovation
Since then, movement analyses have been offered on the basis of positional data determined via the A1 transmitter masts and fed anonymously to Invenium's data analysts. "In fact, it is impossible for us to draw conclusions about individuals," Cik says, placing great emphasis on data protection. "Using statistical methods and our intelligent algorithms, Invenium calculates movement flows", reports Prof. Stefanie Lindstaedt, managing director of the Know Center and head of the Institute of Interactive Systems and Data Science at TU Graz. The movement flows are then visualized in groups of 20 – also for data protection reasons. Does this lead to blurred results? "No," says Cik. "We're not interested in individuals, but in the behaviour of the herd."
Cross-sector demand also beyond corona
The findings are valuable for many sectors. In this way, tourism can learn about the preferences of holidaymakers for certain sights; the economy can measure the effective contact frequency of outdoor advertising and determine inner-city hotspots; and event agencies can gain valuable insights into the visitor structures of events. In the fight against the coronavirus, the Austrian government is now also relying on Invenium analyses: "The crisis team can see at the push of a button whether the initial lockdown restrictions are being complied with and how mobility behaviour is changing as a result of COVID-19." The data also serves simulation researchers Niki Popper and his team at TU Wien, who use it to carry out model calculations and evaluate the measures taken. In addition, the technology enables statistical predictions on the spread of the coronavirus. This is being worked on intensively. "We can use the mobility data to see where people are dispersed and where the next virus hotspot is."
Cik cannot understand the initial criticism of the method of analysis: "We have always communicated our service clearly and transparently. Everything we do is data protection compliant and TÜV (technical inspection association) tested. We also reject requests that are not compatible with our ethical principles. Even if it involves competitor analysis, which would actually be permitted."
There is nevertheless no shortage of orders. Apart from Austria, the company has also been active in other European countries since 2018. In 2020, the aim is to become more international, especially since many other European countries have asked for support in the wake of the COVID-19 spread. Additional personnel are being sought for this: "The market is highly competitive. After all, no industry can survive without data." Here, however, the company benefits from the proximity to TU Graz and the Know Center, which not only produce promising young talents, but have also made Graz a big data hotspot internationally. A fertile soil for the global data business.