3 Reasons to Be Thankful for Data
What better time to think about all that we’re thankful for than Thanksgiving? For businesses, there has never been a better time to be grateful for data and all it can do to help deliver new opportunities. Like a moist, juicy roast turkey, data is the one thing everyone seems to be eating up. Let’s look at three reasons why data is so delectable. We promise you won’t feel sleepy after consuming this list.
Bountiful Amounts of Data
The Pilgrims arrived in the New World during a particularly harsh winter, making it very difficult for them to find food and shelter. Of course we know they persevered despite the shortage of resources after they learned to harvest crops that produced an abundance of food for them to not only survive, but thrive. Fast-forward to today, and we gorge ourselves on turkey and various complex carbohydrates in celebration of the early settlers’ efforts.
Like the sustenance which was once so hard to come by, data too has gone from scarce to abundant, and there’s plenty of it to feast on. Just as the Pilgrims struggled to live off the land, data scientists once had to work especially hard to cultivate meaningful bits of data. When data was scarce, they had to extract, track and survey to get at it. The objective was always to find out how and where to get more of it. Today, data is everywhere and the new goal is understanding how to make sense of it.
Technology has been one of the biggest catalysts of the data explosion. With the digitization of business, the amount of information we are collecting is growing so large that there are debates on just how big it is – it probably has grown even more since you read that sentence . Both structured and unstructured in nature, this wealth of information has made it possible to produce insights and achieve outcomes that were previously inconceivable. Businesses can better identify trends and risk, organizations can tackle health and wellness issues, and governments can solve economic and social challenges.
While we should certainly be grateful for the abundance of data, we must be careful how we use the information. It is important not to overindulge or horde it. Instead we must recognize the type of data that will sustain us and avoid the empty calories that may lead us astray. Just like the Pilgrims planted the right seeds that would bring them sustenance, we must choose the kernels of data that will drive meaningful value and insights.
The Pilgrims came to America from England in search of religious freedom. They yearned for an open society characterized by a flexible stricture, freedom of belief and dissemination of information. We are witnessing a similar evolution in the way data is accessed and shared. The concept of data sharing is officially defined as making a certain piece of data free to use, reuse and redistribute –subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike. In other words, we’re at a point in history where some information can be freely used to solve key problems or make progress towards specific goals.
There are many examples of data that can be openly shared. However, it’s not just about the numbers, but the insights that come along with it that pose the most benefits when freely distributed. This concept offers benefits across both the private and public sector. Businesses can gain a new level of transparency into new opportunities for services/goods, make better decisions based on more accurate information, and reduce costs for data conversion. But perhaps the biggest advantage of an open data ecosystem is for individual citizens. That’s because the sharing of information between governments can help everything from increase economic activity, address national disasters in a swifter manner, and even reduce health issues.
There are several types of data that can be shared among governmental functions. There is the sharing of data among governmental agencies within a single country. Second is the sharing of data across borders between International governments. And lastly, there is the sharing of data between businesses and government; this refers to voluntary sharing of data, beyond the legal reporting obligations of governments.
So what exactly should governments be sharing? Observations are crucial – such as the National Weather Service issuing a Hurricane watch. It’s about sharing conclusions that can help different agencies better prepare for that projected weather event. Ultimately, this is the value of open data: multiple organizations, with mutual interests, sharing their independent observations in a manner that lets each organization draw more accurate, informed and insightful conclusions.
Unfortunately, in many cases the decisions made by government officials are not always based on all of the information that might be pertinent to the situation. The same goes for businesses, which are somewhat reluctant to let go of their first-party data. With the freedom and ease to share information at our hands, we have the opportunity to achieve maximum economic and social benefits.
At the end of the day, data is nothing without analytics to help make sense of it. We should always be cognizant about ways in which specific pieces shared data are used to address specific questions and help establish new ideas. The Pilgrims likely did not use all of their food sources to cook a single meal. We shouldn’t use all the data available to solve a problem just because it’s in front of our face.
A Brave New World of Data
As hard as I tried, I could not come up with a very clever parallel between the Pilgrims and the Internet of Things (IoT). But, this new buzz word represents such a major data opportunity to be thankful for, and, well, the Pilgrims had, umm, things, so here we go.
The IoT refers to the growing network of interconnected objects – devices and machines which are not connected but aware of, and discoverable to, other devices and machines around them. It’s mobile, virtual and instantaneous. Data can be gathered and shared from anything like a car to a refrigerator, which means we’ll be witnessing a huge increase in the amount of data being generated – huge streams of data that will enable new types of insight. We now have an opportunity to organize this information in compelling ways to reach new conclusions.
The IoT has the opportunity to fundamentally change industries. From the automotive industry, where new data signals from cars may help improve safety conditions, to the supply chain, where the real-time passing of information can avoid disruptions in manufacturing. Organizations will quickly realize transformational change of their business models given the rate at which digital technologies are connected and constantly evolving.
As beneficial as the IoT will be, it will not flourish without the right data management and analytics capabilities. Organizations will need to invest time and resources in order to mine valuable insights from the data generated by the interactions that occur between machines.
These are just three examples of how data is changing the face of business and frankly, society. There are certainly countless other reasons to be thankful for data, depending on what your business goals are and what you want to achieve. As I’ve noted, within each of these instances, while there is much to be thankful for, it is vital we be cautious and smart when taking advantage of new data opportunities. Just like the Pilgrims, we are using this new frontier to create a new world of endless possibilities.