Data is a business asset beyond imagination – here is why (and where)

It has almost become embarrassing to say that data is a business asset and should be treated as one (the same goes for information).

The ‘data is an asset’ or a ‘data is a business asset’ message is not new. It goes back over two decades. However, despite the fact that so many people have said it so often before, we still see that there is a difference between preach and practice.

It’s not that organizations fail to understand the importance of data, information and actionable intelligence (well, some do) in the age of big data. It’s mainly that many businesses don’t fully grasp how much of a business asset data really is and underestimate the importance of a good data strategy.

Data as an asset

Why is the ‘data is a business asset’ message back – with a vengeance?

There are obviously reasons why the message that data is a business asset gets repeated since more than 20 years.

One of the reasons is that each time when the statement was made in the last two decades it came from another angle or in a different context. And, today, again we read the message practically each day again (and spread it too).

Why this increasing attention for data as an asset now and why does it seem as if some “discover” it for the first time?

On top of the fact that many businesses undervalue data and information or aren’t able to leverage it – and thus analysts, vendors and others keep repeating the message – there is a societal and technology context. We cover several reasons why ‘data is an asset’ is back, more than ever, below.

Big data – and mainly unstructured data

Big data – as a phenomenon – and the rapidly growing volume and variety of data in general, as well as the challenges and opportunities they bring along, are huge.

They are huge in terms of volume but also in terms of challenges and possibilities. And here especially unstructured data sticks out. We’re not just meaning the sheer numbers. We’re meaning variety, velocity, value and purpose in the first place.

The Internet of Things data reality

Then there is the Internet of Things (IoT). Though still hyped by many, Internet of Things (IoT) applications are becoming more mature and IoT deployments become more scalable.

The increasing maturity is also felt with regard to the standards, the offerings and the IoT connectivity solutions. While the majority of media attention goes to the Internet of Things in a context of consumer electronics applications (because that is more attractive to readers), the “real” Internet of Things applications exist and work very well since quite some time, certainly in the Industrial Internet.

Here is a truth though: many Internet of Things applications (and, again, not in the consumer electronics space) are relatively rudimentary. This doesn’t mean that they are primitive but that in many cases they don’t require that much data. It’s the reason why LPWAN (Low-Powered Wide Area) connectivity standards such as LoRa/LoRaWAN, NB-IOT, Sigfox and many more are doing well in many use cases. The real “Internet of Things data deluge” still has to come.

The obvious exceptions, however, are mainly found in today’s largest Internet of Things industries (manufacturing, oil and gas, utilities and energy, transportation and so on) which are part of the Industrial Internet of Things where most Internet of Things spending happens but also where we see the real applications that are highly data-intensive.

The data economy – when access matters

Next, there are digital transformation, the nascent DX economy, a range of newer technologies, societal factors and more.

Whatever you look at it’s data and information. As the glue, as the connector of people, as the lifeblood of so many things, as the key to customer experience improvement and customer service (where access to the right information fast is what self-service customers want and contact center agents need) and as an economic good as such. In a data-driven economy there is clearly also a data economy in many areas. And it’s not just about the data and information: it’s also about getting access to it, whether it’s to build new business models, do data-driven marketing or to simply get access to the right information that enables you to make better decisions than “the others” (think about real-time access to business information and data for financial markets, for instance).

Data as an asset in the security perspective

The data as an asset message isn’t just about technologies and opportunities. It’s also about risk, compliance and security.

For hackers data is cash – even if it isn’t cash in your books

Never before have we seen so many hacks and attempts to steal data. Moreover, these attacks are becoming more and more sophisticated and can come with grave consequences.

This is the certainly the case for businesses (remember Yahoo and the impact on Verizon’s bid or the tarnished reputations of yet another company where everyone was waiting for the “Mean Time Before CEO Apologizes“).

This security aspect of data as an asset is also the case for governments and citizens across the globe.

The US elections 2016 have been ugly in many regards but just look at all those hacks and leaks that ultimately play a role in who becomes the ‘leader of the free world’ as US presidents tend to be perceived.

Hackers and attackers go after very personal and thus highly valuable data. There is a reason why the Census 2016 in Australia is still debated (at least the optional online possibility which citizens had) after it appeared that there was a state-sponsored attack going after census data (and this is very personal data). No wonder that online census and online voting are not really picking up.

Regulation and the cost of not unlocking data

Moreover, as the size of the data economy (it is a real economy) keeps growing, regulatory requirements regarding data (for instance, the General Data Protection Regulaton) keep growing too and the temptation for hackers to go after high-value data is big.

We don’t live in a world with just your average amateur hacker, we live in a world with state-sponsored attacks, cyberwars (remember Obama’s retaliation message to Russia during the 2016 elections?) and real cybercrime syndicates.

Treating data as an asset is about this as well. And then we’re leaving out all the cost aspects of hoarding information, unused dark data and missed opportunities in not unlocking the value in unstructured data. This is food for another article. For now, let’s remind that regulation also concerns the data and information you don’t actively use but have (access to).

If data is an asset, it gets where it belongs

Last but not least and as mentioned in the introduction there is the fact that not managing data and information as assets doesn’t put data and information where they belong: in the boardroom, including securing and governing it.

The consequences are important: organizations need to be ready for a data-driven economy and a real data economy but data and information management often happens in underfunded and siloed ways.

Ad hoc approaches, whereby data is not properly used, lead to poor customer experience, interrupted processes, costs and not enough focus on becoming more mature when it boils down to data and information.

We won’t expand too much on that as we’ve covered it several times before (see some data from across our website below) but in the end it’s why, today again, in among others a context of digital transformation you hear people saying that leaders in information transformation must treat data as they would any asset as IDC’s Serge Findling did in 2015, when talking about IDC’s Information Digital Transformation MaturityScape.

More on data as a business asset and how to effectively use it as one coming soon. In the meantime, here are those research findings which we just mentioned.

  • Only 4% of businesses can extract full value from their information. More.
  • 68% of businesses plans to undertake an organizational transformation, only a small fraction have fully digitized their content-centric business processes. More.
  • By 2020 the digital universe will reach 44 trillion gigabytes, a tenfold increase over 2013. However, most organizations are still at the beginning of their journey to extract value from information. More.

Time to really treat data as an asset.

Top image: Shutterstock – Copyright: Tashatuvango