Chapter 1. How Data Drives Innovation

The Evolution of Information

For most of history, access to information was limited to the elite—the wealthy, and scholars and philosophers they sponsored—who had access to a small number of precious texts, laboriously copied by hand. Beginning with Gutenberg’s printing press, around 1440, people of all backgrounds and social strata gained access to knowledge through the printed word.

A new breakthrough came in the form of the telegraph, arriving in the 1860s. Better-informed decisions could be made thanks to electrical transmission of data. By the late 1800s, Alexander Graham Bell had his first patent on the telephone. Soon, humanity had a medium for real-time, interactive communication.

By the mid-20th century, mainframe computers arrived, speeding up common tasks like mathematics and text processing. Computer-to-computer communication demanded a more robust alternative to long-distance telephony, leading to the birth of the internet. This marked the start of the digital Information Age. As had been the case with manuscripts, access was initially limited to an elite group, but then reached mass audiences.

Today, companies find themselves with global networks of always-on customers. Each customer demands access to products and services on their own schedule and wherever they happen to be. There is no longer any “close of business.” Engagement with customers, suppliers, partners, and others has never been as important as it is now. Data, especially event-based and behavior-based information, is tied to huge gains in the performance of the data-savvy enterprise. The ability to generate insight from customer and user behavior has never been as important as it is at this precise moment.

The Data-Driven Company

Businesses are now in the midst of a new technological revolution in which the speed of decision making and insight into mission-critical operations are defining an entire new category of real-time, data-driven companies.

These businesses understand that the speed with which they can access, share, and build upon well-defined datasets, across business units, through unified data platforms is one of the most important differentiators that they can take advantage of to propel innovation and creativity across their industry. Reports that are produced weekly, even daily, are no longer fast enough to capture and define new emerging trends that form within business operations, across financial markets, from the operation of myriad devices, and across global supply chains.

Fast access to all of your company’s data, live and historical, has now become the critical game changer. It is up to system architects and data engineers to build and maintain data platforms that can ingest, define, and sanitize massive amounts of continuous events and metrics data, combining it with in-depth historical data to feed the minute-to-minute operational needs of the business.

These needs are met through tools such as truly up-to-date business dashboards, decisioning tools operating on the latest and greatest information, customer-facing applications that reflect both the organization’s accumulated knowledge and the current environment (both virtual and real) in which the user is operating, and more.

As a recent Gartner report states, “by 2022, more than half of major new business systems will be incorporating continuous intelligence that uses real-time context data to improve decisions.” However, when asked, only around “12% of companies are currently starting to integrate streaming data into their analytics requirements.” In other words, the industry knows the switch from batch input to real-time data ingest is a big deal in terms of competitive advantage. The companies who build out their next-generation data platforms now will have a leg up on their competition.

Key Advantages of the Data-Driven Company

Companies that have already embraced this shift can be seen using their data to drive some really incredible services, with features that would have been out of reach just a few years back. Here are a few examples of the capabilities and trends that have emerged over the past few years:

  • Media companies that sell ads in real time, up-to-the-second auctions, maximizing the business value of users’ website visits, drive-time radio listening, and television watching.

  • Real-time logistics systems controlling and optimizing the coordination of human workforces, as seen with customer-facing tools such as Amazon Prime and operational tools such as human capital management software.

  • System-wide monitoring of large-scale physical device networks such as next-generation smart water management for agriculture as well as sensor networks in, for example, natural gas pipelines (Internet of Things [IoT]).

  • Banking systems that detect cyber- and real-world security issues, protect customers’ funds, and improve portfolio management, even moving credit card fraud detection from an overnight process to fighting fraud “on the swipe,” as the transaction is actually being made.

  • Almost instantaneous feedback loops and state management for connected homes (IoT), including light networks, garage doors, even coffee makers and barbeque grills.

  • Smart navigation systems that use machine learning and predictive analytics to route around problems in real time, as seen with Waze and other connected mapping solutions.

  • Feed-forward systems that consume and aggregate user event data to provide better time resolution in cases like customer support and crisis support (as seen with the Crisis Text Line).

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