Chapter 12

Data to Die For

Simon Kennedy and David Matheson

Using information to make one's name or fortune is hardly a new concept. In 1978, Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, famously said that “the information about the package is as important as the package itself” and applied this insight to develop the real-time tracking tools that gave his company a huge advantage in the marketplace.

What is powering the efforts of the Googles of today's business world is the rapidly increasing amount of information—about everything from stock trades to hip replacements—that exists in digital form. Inexpensive to search and relatively easy to manipulate, the digital format is creating manifold opportunities for companies to more easily take advantage of the information that they have, and that others don't, for competitive advantage. The information asymmetries that result will increasingly shape markets and decide who wins, who loses, and even who gets to play. In short, in a world awash with information, some companies find ways to know more than others, and the difference can allow them to devise and drive whole new business models.

In some circumstances, shortcomings in collecting or understanding information have more than commercial ramifications: they can determine who lives or dies. Automakers, airlines, food service companies, and health care providers, among others, can put consumers at risk if data flows go awry. Indeed, perhaps tens of thousands of preventable patient deaths occur ...

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