The urge to be mobile and make a mark is as old as mankind. Ancient tribes moved around guided by stars, sent sound signals and left their ‘selfies’ on cave walls with colorful palm prints. Today we use GPS to get where we’re going, communicate on a variety of devices and are so obsessed with visuals that it would take an individual more than 5 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IPnetworks each month in 2018.
Sharing and generating all this information has led to a new era shaped by a phenomenon we call big data. It’s not easy to explain what big data is, or more important, how companies try to manage it so that it’s useful for business purposes. SAP’s head of Platform Solutions, Steve Lucas said in his interview between two schnitzels that the best way to manage data is by developing cloud applications that allow you to run your business from a mobile phone. Simple, right?
What’s different now?
The big difference between data then and now is that before, only humans created and collected data as they went about inventing more and more things and ways to make life easier. With the rise of sensors and other technology that creates and collects data, humans are no longer the center of the data solar system, creating everything, but are just another node in an increasingly autonomous data universe. In an article published in the The Human Face of Big Data, Esther Dyson points out that the big in big data is about self organization. Without our awareness, data is organizing itself, mostly following human rules but without human intervention, acting more like the immune system than the nervous system ruled centrally by the brain. So what?
This means that while we may be able to observe the data around us, there is still much we don’t understand. Just as ancient people lacked knowledge about bacteria and its impact on health, we lack knowledge about how billions of objects really interact with their own virtual presence and identity, sending data they collect to other devices to coordinate common activity and making decisions humans are not even aware of.
Are we playing with fire?
Humans have always tried to model and shape the natural world and sometimes have lost control, leading to disasters and destruction. Think loss of habitat, the extinction of many species, or the change in climate and its impact around the globe. There are many lessons to be learned about messing with nature; the most important one is taking responsibility for the outcome.
With big data revolutionizing what it means to mess with something humanity has never known before comes a new responsibility, because the purpose of managing data is not to predict the future but to shape it. And that’s a huge responsibility.
Rising to the challenge
Using technology that provides insight into data, today’s business leaders have a unique opportunity to make thoughtful decisions that will have long-lasting impact. A century ago no one could foresee how the automobile would become a ubiquitous mode of transportation that changed the world. Changes took place slowly in an evolutionary manner, unplanned and unmanaged, brought about by technological advances that led to safer and more reliable cars on one hand and messy traffic and massive ecological problems on the other.
Evolution hasn’t stopped! Connected cars are already here, and driverless, sensor-based cars are coming. In the new world, people will rely on service providers to get around and won’t need to own cars. There will be no need for car dealerships, insurance, or parking. There will be no car accidents, no speeding tickets, and entirely different energy sources. Data in the new, connected network will autonomously ‘drive’ us safely to wherever we are going.
This kind of transformation has far reaching implications on the entire ecosystem and our lifestyles. Innovative companies within the automotive ecosystem are already analyzing data to help them understand what needs to be done in 5-year chunks, so they can transform from an automotive
company to a ‘mobility company’ using sustainable practices.
Disruptive changes like that are happening in every industry around the world. Will today’s leaders rise to the challenge of shaping the future in a responsible way? Let’s not just be another node in the data universe. Let’s leverage our tools and technology to better understand the data around us and use it to make a difference.