Monday, December 21, 2009

The World is Addicted to Data (and that's good for us)

In the famous book “The Transparent Society”, we are asked to consider some of the privacy ills we will be facing as technology improves and our society gains access to more data sets. The book was groundbreaking when it was written in 1999. It imagines the emergence of groups who are more powerful because they own the data. However, as we sit here ten years later with 20/20 hindsight, it’s clear that the existence and access to specialized data sets makes our life better, not worse.

There are countless examples of this daily improvement in our lives, but some personal ones:
  • I was in the supermarket recently and per usual, there was a long line at the deli. On the other hand, there was no line at the “deli kiosk” so I gave it a try. Based on my frequent shopper card number and underlying database, the deli kiosk already knew my preferred brand and type of cheese and delicious deli meats. Ordering was a snap thanks to a database, and I didn’t even have to mispronounce “Deutschmacher” to the deli man, like I usually do.
  • For Thanksgiving, I visited some relatives that I don’t often see. My GPS led me there thanks to a geospatial database. It told me how long it was going to take based on traffic data, which is often aggregated from several sources, including road sensors and car and taxi fleets. I also was informed about all the coffee shops along the way, thanks to the data set provided by the Dunkin Donuts. Before I left, I used Google Street View and Microsoft Bing’s Birds Eye view to see what the destination looked like. Ten years ago, all of this was pretty much unheard of, but thanks to the coming together of geospatial data, real-time traffic data, satellite and airplane imagery, street view imagery, Dunkin Donuts franchise data, and small, cheap processors, my trip was fantastic.
  • Fantasy Football is a new phenomenon, made possible by data our addiction to data. We know exactly where we stand on any given Sunday as player stats are made available instantly during the games. When Wes Welker scores, I see the six points reflected on my score instantly. Companies like STATS not only cover football, but according to their web site - 234 sports.
  • For iPhone users, there are tons of data-centric applications. For example, Wait Watchers is an app that uses user submissions to generate and display a table of the current ride wait times at major theme parks throughout the world. As this information is updated by users, other users at Disney can make decisions about whether to go to Space Mountain or It’s a small world, for example.

In the corporate world, it’s much of the same and even more important to our society. Marketing teams are addicted to information from web analytics and use marketing automation tools to track the success of their programs. Operations teams track assets like computers, buildings, trucks and people with data. Sales has been and will continue to track customers with data. Finance relies on the collision of credit scores data, invoice and payment data as well as making sure they have enough money in reserves to meet regulations. Executives will continue to rely on business intelligence and data. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone in the business world who doesn’t rely on data.

Of course, much of this is anecdotal. I haven’t found any specific study on the increase in database use, but we do know from an old IDC study that the number of servers in use worldwide, presumably some used for database, has roughly doubled from 2000 to 2005. A doubling of servers, combined with a typically bigger hard drive capacity, point to higher database use.

It was difficult to imagine us here ten years ago, and it’s even more difficult to imagine where we’ll be at the beginning of 2020.  It seems to me that we'll have more opportunity to create and use information with applications on our mobile devices. The collision of iPhone/Droid devices with increasing bandwidths of 3G and 4G networks on the major mobile phone carriers tells me that data in the future will let us do things we can only imagine today.

The world is addicted to data and that bodes well for anyone who helps the world manage it. In 2010, no matter if the economy turns up or down, our industry will continue to feed the addiction to good, clean data.

1 comment:

WhatsYourPoint? said...

It is indeed true that world is getting used to(or addicted which ever your prefer) more and more data. My personal experience: Buying a house in early 90’s… I had to drive from neighborhood to neighborhood, meet with my agent and look at the brochures/pictures and decide which houses to visit. Recently when we were looking at the house, we could zero in on neighborhood, look at the house and decide if we wanted to a personal tour of the house even before we stepped out of the house and signed up for a real estate agent. What a dramatic change in how one now buys a house….. all this made possible by data addiction .

Vish Agashe

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer. The material written here is copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Sarsfield. To request permission to reuse, please e-mail me.