Today, the world’s economies increasingly rely on the production of intangible goods. So, what should businesses do to become more competitive in an information-driven world? And, just (if not more) importantly, how can we – consumers, individuals – benefit from the huge data sets about us that businesses increasingly store and utilize?
Not that we aren’t, already, benefiting. I can get anywhere by plane within a few hours. Flight has never been so accessible and affordable. But that’s not just about jet engines and the Bernoulli effect. Think how much data needs to be sent, received and processed to make my journey easy. There are online searches, airline advertisements, price comparisons, flight bookings, ticket purchases, credit card transactions, promotions, transfers, connections, and luggage checking and handling. All that adds up to huge data sets – what we call big data.
We tend to forget about all that data as we go about our lives but hardly anyone would be surprised by IDC’s prediction that the digital universe – as measured by the volume of data created, processed, sent and delivered – will reach 180 zettabytes by 2025. That is 180 followed by 21 zeros. Already, the amount of information that surrounds every one of us every day equals the total volume of information that touched an individual over the entire twentieth century.
What does this mean to us now and how will it affect our lives tomorrow? Will we create standards for data use and sharing that protect our privacy? Will we be able to tell credible information from false? As customers and individuals, will we be able to manage our personal data? Will we be able to profit by it?
Can you sell yourself?
Our digital identity is comprised not only of our date of birth, address, phone number and e-mail address but increasingly information about our work, interests, health and finances. Consider digital wallets. These take a variety of forms, from digital cards to applications on our phones. They store our transactions, accounts and often our habits and shopping preferences. They contain a treasury of knowledge. Who is this data shared with? Commonly, the wallet makers, who aggregate and anonymize and subsequently sell them. Do we, the creators and putative owners of this data benefit in any way? Not much, apart from the bargains we may receive in the form of ubiquitous ads.
But innovative service providers may enable consumers to capitalize on the information that today generates profit only for businesses. Turning the tables could produce interesting results.
One company that has taken this approach to the roles of data selling and buying is Datacoup. According to its website, its mission is to change the current model by empowering users to leverage (and profit from) their own data. Datacoup enables its paying customers to create data profiles on its website. Datacoup then makes the information in the profile available to buyers, mainly banks and insurance companies, which pay the individual for access. A profile’s value rises or falls depending on its content.
Is this the tip of a new spear? For this inverted model to spread, we would have to change our habits and perhaps be less inclined to give our data away for free. Major legislative solutions and the willingness of the corporate world would also be necessary.
Internet of Things, or a data revolution
We are flooded with data, valuable and worthless, fake and real, needed and unnecessary. And now even more terabytes of data will be created independently of us through the Internet of Things. Assembling sensors, vehicles, robots, industrial and home appliances into a single digital organism will trip off an avalanche of new information.
A global network of collaborating devices is something very new. We’ve never seen an intelligent organism grow independently of humans, feeding on the information that it itself generates. How does one control this process? Is it controllable? The Internet of Things may one day challenge legal systems, forcing them to deal with mushrooming information whose owners will be largely anonymous and difficult to identify.
Information must cooperate
In order for companies to meet the demands of rapidly-changing markets, boards must abandon their habits and traditional approach to business. In the business world, modern technologies are not mere toys for IT units, which are happy to have managed to persuade decision-makers to buy a specific application, algorithm or neural network. New technologies are vital for companies’ survival. After all, it is the technology that allows a company to quickly assess whether its marketing, product or sales strategy is working.
There is no disputing the growing value of readily available and processable information sets. To convince those in charge to invest in the latest technology, including artificial-intelligence-based mechanisms, it is sometimes best to resort to the arguments of a futurist. After all, futurists can create business scenarios (use cases) or data usage models that rely on modern technologies, those that, although are still in their infancy today, may well develop and play a huge role in the future. What technologies are those? Think of the possibilities of directly connecting the human brain with machines to eliminate the most ineffective human-machine interface, namely the computer keyboard. Compared to this, virtual and augmented reality (which is so popular today and is taking the entertainment or manufacturing industries by storm) looks like a mere toy.
The drive to simplify
What should businesses do to thrive in an environment dominated by huge data sets? First, they must make their employees realize that the ability to process, collect, share, secure and monetize information or DATA will increasingly affect an organization’s market position and value. Therefore, modern data management is a key challenge faced not just by IT or technology/digital units but by the business itself. It is equally important to train employees to use data purposefully. For now, “machine learning” and “deep learning” are vague concepts in corporate boardrooms. And yet, it is these technologies that will determine the organization’s ability to function. In today’s business world, modern technologies are the only way companies can tell whether their marketing, product or sales strategy is working, and what to do if it’s not.