The cliché “data is the new oil” may have rung true 15 years ago – when it was first coined by the British mathematician Clive Humby to refer to the need to refine data to unlock its value; but it has certainly lost its relevance now, if only because data itself is not new. In fact, if an enterprise has not already committed to being data-powered by now, it may already be too late.
After all, data is what allows businesses to anticipate the whimsical preferences of the consumer market in real-time, or to create seamless, highly personalized online user experiences. Data is the driving force behind the concept of Intelligent Industry, in which live information from smart products, devices and vehicles is transformed into direct responses. Data is even starting to impact the more mundane, core Enterprise Management processes, such as HR and Finance & Accounting, making them, eventually, autonomous.
And unlike oil, data is not a commodity to be hoarded. Whatever industry, whatever domain, data only becomes truly activated – delivering on its potential to the business – when it is shared and collaborated on with others, inside and outside the organization.
Although data-powered enterprises aren’t new, here’s what businesses should expect to see in 2021.
1. Data is energy
When we look for a more contemporary, sustainable metaphor to replace the outdated “data is the new oil”, the sun immediately comes to mind – powerful, abundant energy, unlimited in its potential. Just like data.
The organizations that take advantage of using it to its maximum capacity will reap the benefits from a monetization point of view. This will also prompt an increase in data-sharing and exchange, as businesses realize there is so much more value in data that is shared and collaborated on, all without risking their competitive advantage.
Businesses have already spent years moving away from inflexible, monolithic enterprise data warehouses towards more flexible data lakes. Now, new data mesh principles and technologies acknowledge the distributed nature of data ownership and the value of exchanging data as a high-quality product.
Data becomes energy – the smarter, reusable kind.
2. Data and the reimagined business model
Data and AI are changing the business landscape and raising customer expectations. The pandemic has demonstrated how they can help organizations to build both resilience and adaptability and allow them to respond much more quickly – maybe even automatically or entirely autonomously – in the event of any new threat or opportunity.
The likes of Amazon are a great example: they have thrived in the pandemic with data-powered capabilities in place, enabling them to react quickly and provide easy and seamless services to customers.
As established enterprises have no choice than to catch up in 2021, they need to turn to AI and data to reimagine the way they conduct their business. This will require a greater transparency of data; businesses must increase data sharing among their ecosystem of partners (for example suppliers, sub-contractors and distributors in the supply chain) to improve overall visibility.
3. Innovation: please meet scale
While the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the innovation ambitions of many organizations, it’s important to remember that ‘innovation’ itself is not the pinnacle of success. After all, what is the point of innovating without implementing it at scale within the organization?
In 2021 it will not just be a matter of maintaining an appetite for innovations in areas such as AI and cloud, but much more of strengthening their efficacy within the operations – even if it means slowing down in that addictive innovation spree.
The rubber has hit the road. Now it's time to switch to overdrive.
4. AI and rediscovery of ethics
With data and AI at the heart of business initiatives, organizations find themselves under increasing scrutiny to not only comply with data protection regulations such as GDPR, but also to ensure proper, ethical use of data and algorithms.
Consumers are much more open to products and services if they trust that their privacy is respected, and security is guaranteed. Workers will embrace support from AI earlier when its mechanisms are transparent, its training data is unbiased, and it augments them in their daily work. Regulators will demand AI solutions that can be audited and explained.
If handled proactively, trust and ethics can even become driving forces. But it’s not an easy, smooth ride, as many government track and trace initiatives have demonstrated, plagued as they have been by regulatory and privacy concerns. The new emphasis on AI, intelligent automation and robotics is putting foundational topics right back on the corporate agenda, forcing companies to re-establish how they look at ethics, emotional intelligence and the evolving roles of humans in their business.
The pandemic has created a moment of truth for organizations. In a time of conflicting challenges and opportunities that seem to ripple through from all sorts of unexpected places, a company’s purpose and values need to be the compass that guides its strategic decisions.
However 2021 turns out,data will be critical to the elevated change that comes with it, not only to articulate, but to define and monitor the new desired metrics and results. It will also mean leveraging data sources to connect with the outside world, sharing and exchanging data for joint outcomes in a more sustainable, more diverse, more inclusive world.