Stuff you know, but don’t know you know

Neil Perkin
Neil Perkin

In the first of a series of leaders from guest columnists, Neil Perkin, former IPC director, marketing, digital and strategy and now running consultancy Only Dead Fish, speculates on how we can leverage the staggering amount of data now amassing.

There’s a lot of big numbers flying around. Big numbers that reflect the momentous change in media that we are living through, with much focus on the metrics of consumption (2 billion video views a day on YouTube), and around the metrics of sharing (25 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook every month), yet relatively little on the consequence of all that consumption and sharing – the data. The tangible, explicit information we actively type-in, post, tweet but also the more implicit vapour trails of data we leave behind us in the wake of our participation, interaction and conversation online.

Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of search product and user experience, has described a data explosion ’bigger than Moore’s Law’, powered by three big changes to internet data in recent times: Speed (real-time data), unprecedented scale built on unprecedented processing power, and new data (uploaded from sensors and objects – the internet of things). Eric Schmidt summed it up: “Between the dawn of civilisation and 2003, five exabytes of information were created. In the last two days, five exabytes of information have been created, and that rate is accelerating”.

Research by technology consultancy IDC estimates that the ’digital universe’ grew by 62% last year to 800,000 petabytes (a petabyte is a million gigabytes). To put that into context, according to The Guardian that’s enough to fill 75Bn iPads and is a digital output equivalent to the entire population of the Earth tweeting continuously for a century (God forbid). And this is forecast to expand over the next decade by a factor of 44.

About 70% of this digital universe is generated by individuals (Mayer estimates that the average person uploads 15 times more data in 2009 than they did just three years ago). Individuals who continue to move towards data rich environments, like social media and mobile. But the remainder, also growing exponentially, comprises data uploaded by organisations, Governments and objects.

As part of the ’Big Society’ declaration, the government has pledged to create “a new ’right to data’ so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public, and then published on a regular basis”, thereby unleashing what some have called a ’tsunami of data’.

It’s all rather daunting. Yet it is also a huge opportunity. An opportunity to do things so much better than we do now. People want solutions at point of need. The great promise of the internet, especially now with ubiquitous connectivity for many of us, is that it will deliver this. The upside of the data explosion is that the more of it there is, the better digital based services can get at delivering personal value. Value that will increasingly be in how seamlessly data is aggregated, filtered, recombined and personalised.

The Guardian, for example, has recognised that as more data becomes open, journalists lose their privileged status as gatekeepers of information, but it is embracing change by also recognizing the increasing need for curation and explanation: “The more data that’s available in the world, the more essential it is for somebody to make sense of it.”

There can be little doubt that the business development and entrepreneurial opportunities of the next few years will be all about building on top of existing and emerging data streams. Yet many organizations under-exploit the value that already sits in the data they currently have. We often talk about the value that be derived from cross-functional collaboration within organizations, transparency, ease of interaction, new ways of collaborating with our customers. Yet the data remains in silo’s, un-optimised, not joined up. Companies sitting on huge amounts of value. Things they know, but don’t know they know. Data that can deliver the kind of intelligence and insight that can transform business performance.

We need to recognise that business value will come from not only breaking down the silos between our people, but in joining up, and opening up, our data. The businesses that win will be those that understand how to build value from data from wherever it comes. Information isn’t power but the right information is.

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