Guest post by Craig Hayman, General Manager, IBM Industry Solutions.
Our CEO, Ginni Rometty, has been speaking recently about data and how it represents the natural resource of the 21st century. Not a natural resource, but the natural resource, bar none. The one difference is that unlike other natural resources, data is scarily unlimited. There are 500 billion word-of-mouth impressions about products and services on the social web annually in the U.S. alone and each impression generates a potential slew of data: who read what, when, where, leading to the ultimate data point: what action, if any, did that person take?
I wanted to take the data-as-natural resource analogy a little further and started thinking about it in terms of being the exhaust or byproduct of our age. It’s not that we as business leaders set out to create data about our customers. Rather, our customers, by virtue of how they communicate with one another, build online communities, and share or create content, have given us a great deal of information about themselves. The data is a byproduct of our digital lifestyles and like the byproducts of previous social advances, it can lead to profound and unimagined changes in its own right.
Pollution was one significant and negative byproduct of the industrial revolution. Who among the leaders of the industrial revolution could have imagined that by 1952, London would be in the grip of the Great Smog, pollution so thick that the city came to a virtual halt? No one could have foreseen it because the kind of change that transforms industries and societies is fundamentally disruptive and largely unpredictable. To paraphrase Clay Shirky, change this big does not take us from point A to point B; it’s chaotic and nonlinear. Two centuries after new manufacturing processes improved our standards of living, increased food supplies while lowering costs, and drove mass migration from villages to cities, London would ban the use of coal fires in homes, introducing much cleaner-burning central heating systems and better air quality for its citizens.
Similarly, Gutenberg’s bible did not simply lead to a jump in the number of books in circulation. The byproduct of the printing press was an explosion of ideas on a massive scale. Presumably Gutenberg was out to make a few bucks when he printed his bible. He actually didn’t make much money. Instead, he democratized access to knowledge and, in so doing, sparked a revolution that forever changed Western society. His printing press unleashed (perhaps unwittingly) a torrent of thoughts, plans and opinions that led directly to the renaissance, the reformation, and the flourishing of scientific experiments and writings because for the first time, people could easily share their ideas.
So when I think about data and how we’re using it today to better understand what makes individual customers tick and, therefore, how to better serve them, I know that we’re only at the beginning of our journey. IBM’s research clearly shows that the best companies out there are focused on using data to crack the social genome. Among our customers, 76% of CxOs aspire to better understand their customers, and 84% of CIOs intend to invest heavily in analytics and optimization. We’re experiencing disruption that is no less monumental than what people experienced during the industrial revolution or after Gutenberg first published the bible. But we must remember that data is only as good as the insights we derive from it and the actions we take as a result of it. It’s a byproduct of our digital lifestyles, not an end in itself.
Craig Hayman is the General Manager of Industry Solutions, IBM Software Group. As General Manager, Mr. Hayman has oversight for a business unit focused on delivering high value, integrated solutions that enable better business outcomes for clients by building smarter industries - a portfolio which includes IBM's Industry Frameworks, Enterprise Content Management solutions, Enterprise Marketing Management solutions and Industry Solution products.