No industry is unaffected by the wave of change made possible by the ever-growing amount of data we are collecting, storing and analyzing. From banking and insurance to healthcare, manufacturing and marketing, data is being used to unlock new possibilities and push back boundaries.
Increasingly, businesses will sink or swim according to how they react to this new data-driven model of business. Those with a solid data strategy in place, and innovative ideas about how this wealth of information can be used to drive change, will prosper. Those which fail to act, or fumble the ball and missing crucial opportunities, will probably not.
Of course, data – information, intelligence – has always been a crucial business asset. What’s changing today is the sheer volume, and the sophistication of the tools available to us to help us unlock its secrets.
The rapidly increasing number of machines connected and communicating with each other online – the Internet of Things (IoT) – is behind much of this growth in volume. 13 billion devices are connected to the internet today – predicted to grow to 70 billion by 2020. All these devices – from the smartphones in our pockets, to the connected industrial machinery of industry, to cameras and sensors on tomorrow’s autonomous cars – collect information on the world around them through scanners, sensors and human input.
Considering all of the hype around “big data”, artificial intelligence and automation, it’s easy to dismiss a lot of what’s said as hyperbole. But really, it’s very hard to overemphasize how fundamentally transformational to traditional business methodologies this will be. Of course, the same goes for the impact it will have on people, too. Boston Consulting Group predicted that by 2025 up to a quarter of today’s human jobs could be replaced by machines.
When we talk about people losing their jobs to machines, the first situation that comes to mind is often manual production line operatives being replaced with pieces of machinery. This is probably a fairly accurate picture of how things happened during previous periods of industrial revolution.
The difference today – during Industrial Revolution 4.0 – is that the machines entering the job market are smart. Empowered by AI and capable of replacing far more than just manual laborers. In insurance, brokers and underwriters are in danger of being replaced by machine learning algorithms which can complete their job just as, if not more, accurately and at far higher speeds. Those whose jobs involve analyzing financial or statistical data of any sort can expect widespread changes in the employment landscape. Medical imaging technology has reached the point where less doctors’ hours need to be spent studying scans and x-rays because computers can pick up the warning signs of illness just as reliably. And in law, much of the groundwork – sifting through vast catalogs of legal documents to research precedents, and the drafting of legal documents – can increasingly be taken care of by algorithm.
So, what is the key to keeping ahead – if you don’t want to lose your job to a robot, or your clients to a more data-savvy competitor? Well in my opinion the first thing every business, or individual, needs to do, is come up with a plan for navigating the stormy waters ahead.
Everything has to start with a strategy. Too many data-driven initiatives are kicked off with a drive to collect as much data as possible with the idea that “we’ll find something to do with it.” This can lead down a dangerous road which ends in initiatives drowning in data which costs money to collect and store but yields no rewards.
Once you have a clear business case for how you will use data – whether it will be to improve decision making, drive efficiency and optimization in your processes, or as a direct source of monetization – it’s time to work out what challenges data can help you address, what data you need for that, how you will capture it, and use it to drive the change you’re looking for.
It is therefore important that HR teams or departments in any organization develop a strategy of how data can best help them achieve their goals and how best to prepare the organization and the people within it for the new world order of a 4th industrial revolution.
However, it is important that this HR data strategy does not exist in isolation. Businesses have developed a tendency to isolate data into silos, so if you’re in HR it’s difficult to know if the information you need is within sniffing distance but firewalled by finance, marketing or IT. Increasingly, companies which prosper will have to learn to introduce organization-wide data strategies that align and optimize how data is used.
In the next 10 years, it’s highly likely that your company, and your job, are going to be changed in some significant ways due to the changing ways we are using data. Those which come out on top are those which adopt a solid strategy designed to pull together information from all the available sources – internal and external – and use them to achieve a clear aim.
Bernard Marr is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, strategic performance consultant and analytics, KPI and Big Data guru. His new book Data Strategy: How to profit from a world of big data, analytics and the Internet of Things is out now, published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99