The Data Imperative
I believe in something I call “The Data Imperative.” Simply put, it’s technology companies’ and data experts’ responsibility to make sure we guide the current digital transformation in ways that are not just smart, profitable and open, but also wise.
Think about what we lose – as a society – when we lose information, aka data. For example, the Library at Alexandria burned to the ground in 48 BC, destroying plans, plays, poems – the genius of generations. A similar event occurred much more recently, when nearly all of Brazil’s National Museum was destroyed by fire, including priceless artifacts dating back thousands of years.
Data alone is just ones and zeros. But when we give it context, it becomes valuable information. Losing data due to a museum or library burning to the ground – or a server crashing – feels personal because it is personal. It’s our history, our ideas, our science and technology, our art.
The Dark Ages Data Swamp
When we look back to the Dark Ages it was, for all intents and purposes, a data swamp. People had the knowledge to survive, but not the wisdom or “intelligence” to thrive. Then the printing press came along and set the stage for the Renaissance, a period of enlightenment, in which information/data was recorded, shared and stored at a much more massive scale than ever before in history. This storage and broad sharing of information enabled multi-disciplinary thinking, linking different ideas, cultures, technologies and people.
I see parallels today with what’s happening with big data – mashing up different perspectives and data sets is what gives us fresh insights and enables us to break free from outdated paradigms. In other words, when information is made readily available from a variety of sources, it can revolutionize thinking.
The Volatility Challenge
There’s a saying: “You can never cross the same river twice” – everything changes, and nothing stands still. From a data management perspective, with the amount and volume of data being generated, you can’t generate the same report twice. Another way I like to look at how things have changed: the business world used to be Newtonian: fixed, measurable and predictable. Today, it’s more Quantum-like: fluid, probabilistic and unpredictable, with unprecedented volatility in every market. Once upon a time, a company could live 60-70 years on the S&P 500. Last year, the average lifespan on the S&P was 22 years.
Banking is a great example of the volatility challenge. Today’s unpredictable geopolitical climate is impacting the back office’s ability to meet regulatory requirements, and the front office is constantly getting hammered on the customer end by FinTech disruptors like digital wallets, mobile banking and bitcoin. To remain competitive, banks have to be as “disruptive” as the disruptors. They have to digitally transform themselves. But with so much data and so much volatility, how is it possible to harness the potential?
Automate and Augment
“Digital transformation” involves integrating data into everyday processes in all areas of business to change how a company operates, develops products and services, and delivers value to customers. Central to digital transformation is managing and leveraging big data to deliver “intelligence,” or the insights a company can use to achieve or maintain its competitive position.
To manage and leverage data at such a large scale, there are two key things companies must do. First, they must “Automate the Knowns.” This means automating the repeatable, known tasks such as supply chain management. Second, companies must “Augment the Unknowns.” This refers to augmenting humans’ ability to do a better job with uncertainty and volatility. This can happen a variety of ways, including correcting biases and exploring the “what ifs,” or improving cognition by having more relevant information at your disposal.
Democratize Your Data
In our brave new “Quantum” world of business, with static predictability gone forever, the solution for companies looking to digitally transform is self-service and democratization of data. Companies must empower people to do what they need to do their jobs better – faster – without IT bottlenecks. A modern, managed data lake – with permissions and governance baked in – is an effective and practical way to democratize data and create a self-service environment. You can then build products and services that delight your customers because you have deep insight into your target audiences. You can address changing regulations in real time because all of the international legal data is up to date. And, you can make better and faster decisions because your data is accurate and you’ve already factored in the right risks and rewards.
A Shared Imperative
Data is not only our business, it’s our community and our lives. Big data brings the promise of a new, enlightened era of cross-pollination and new ways of seeing information. It’s our responsibility to make data more available to achieve new possibilities, while keeping it secure and private.
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