Forget toys – today, whoever has the most data wins.
Recently, I was meeting with a couple of executives from the Canadian Network for International Surgery (CNIS), when a rep from their largest funder, the Canadian International Developing Agency (CIDA) dropped in for a visit. The topic of the conversation was data and how CNIS was collecting it. What I learned from that meeting is that the Canadian Government is collecting serious amounts of data related to their work to ensure that the projects they are funding are competing effectively in today’s markets.
So if the Canadian Government is doing it, it must be a good idea, right?
We’ve all heard the age-old remark, “knowledge is power.” Well data is simply a building block of knowledge. When you can put data together in some kind of context, you get information, and with the right information you can build knowledge.
The World Wide Web started out as a large collection of data and the data was growing at break-neck speeds. At the time, a guy named Larry Page saw this collection of 10 million documents as an opportunity. He partnered with a guy named Sergey Brin, and out of all that mess of data came a system called PageRank and a company called Google. With acquisition of Internet services like Youtube and applications like Gmail, Maps, Street View and now Google+, Google has built itself into a data-collection empire.
Another example of a data-collection empire is Facebook. With more than 700 million active users worldwide, Facebook has been finding new and creative ways to come out with innovative products based on that data. Facebook has the largest database of faces on the planet – about 90 billion photos. With that data, they’ve been able to create a facial recognition technology that “suggests” tags to pictures they upload. In other words, if I upload six photos of my friend Andrew, Facebook may recognize his face (thanks to other tagged photos of him on their website) and “suggest” that I tag him in my photos. The next step for Facebook, in my mind, will be the ability to upload a picture of someone to Facebook and then find all the other pictures of that person on the Internet. Assuming Facebook can find a way to do that without breaking every privacy law in the book.
Facebook was in a similar situation as Google was when it first started. It had access to a ton of data and was able to convert that data into new opportunities.
Data is now the new frontier for innovation, competition and productivity, and the amount of data in our world has been increasing exponentially. Companies capture trillions of bytes of information about customers, suppliers, and operations and with communication devices doing sales upwards of 5 billion units per year, the amount of information available is growing exponentially. Like other essential factors of production such as hard assets and human capital, data is increasingly becoming a major drive of modern economic activity, innovation and growth.
The explosion of strategies such as algorithmic trading coupled with regulatory compliance and increasingly complex financial engineering tools is leading to massive volumes of data within financial services organizations. In their industry, conducting business at the data level is no longer a practice for the future. In fact, I would argue that every industry is being required to compete at this level in some way.
This article also published in Corporate Recruiters Summer Newsletter 2011