Data – The resource of the modern world.
The internet is perhaps the most important innovation of the modern era. Effectively bringing about the onset of the digital age, the infrastructure created in the wake of the internet becoming available to the masses lent a new speed and scale to communication, specifically for consumers and businesses. Particularly for consumers, the internet became the one-stop-shop for entertainment, knowledge, education, social sharing, and shopping.
With the commercialisation of the internet, the consumer has been granted more power than ever before, now armed with the knowledge of what they’re buying and how much they’re supposed to pay. Likewise, the companies sitting on the other side of the transaction benefit from the data they receive in the process. From personal data, to behavioral and engagement data, companies now have several tools to use in the form of cookies, signal trackers, etc.
Due to the democratisation of the internet, all sorts of devices are now becoming sources of data. As handheld mobile phones become more widespread, sources of consumer data have increased exponentially in the last decade, and businesses now trade in clusters of generated data, which is used to find demographic, sociological and geographic patterns.
Companies like Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft were already the titans of Silicon Valley, but have now propelled themselves to the pantheon of tech companies due to the sheer size of the data they collect and deal with. Not only has data collection allowed these companies to rake in billions, but also create a business model that is more customer-centric as personal information collected is used to create a “story for one”, or tailor advertisements to individual customers.
And yet, the gradual shift towards a data-rich society is not without its own set of problems.
Personalised ads have been accompanied by nearly half of the global connected consumers denouncing it as an invasion of privacy, and governments subsequently enacting data protection laws. The European Union, the State of California, and South Africa have already rolled out the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI Act) respectively.
As data emerges as one of the most important resources in today’s world, companies born in this era have been tasked with making sense of the sheer size of data available at their disposal, and to make sense of and use the data in a constructive manner – one that isn’t just beneficial, but also ethical. Data must be treated as a business opportunity, instead of a mere tool for a business plan or strategy. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the ability to distinguish useful information in the avalanche of data will decide the winners from the losers in the years to come.