Data Will Take Over Your Business. What Are You Going To Do About It?

It seems that new phrases and acronyms are flying around faster than ever. Some of them are really new words for old things and some of them appear, don’t gain traction and then disappear. The IOT (Internet of things) is one that seems to be here to stay now as a description of of the slowly arriving ecosystem of things that were previously seen as static or unconnected, such as your fridge, car, wardrobe, lawn mower or increasingly a WiFi or signal-enabled sensor attached to an object and then to the Internet, where it can be monitored or report back to you. Simple examples would be a small sensor clipped to your keyring that will signal if you drop your keys or a window sensor that can let you know if it’s opened.

A new acronym I heard recently is M2M, explained as ‘Machine to Machine’ which as an adjunct to the Internet of things attempts to describe a thing or a machine transmitting data to another thing or machine. It refers to the information (data) sent between things. A sensor in a flower bed could for instance sense that it is becoming dry and signal an auto watering system to switch on and water the area until it says stop. Or a sensor listening to a pump could ‘hear’ that the pump is developing a fault and send the message via the internet to the pump manufacturing machine to have it mould a new one before anyone has become aware of it. Sensors can also simply transmit data for later analysis or discovery and I think that the fastest growth to come is in the generation and collection of huge amounts of new data whilst we will then take another while to start to mine it or shape it to guide us to do useful actionable things.

Some of us are already collecting sales data, email data, location data, server data, data from apps that we have created, data from our processes, software and manufacturing data as well as a whole heap of other data and right now most businesses, large and small are struggling to archive and merge it, let alone curate it. The rise of successful companies such as Salesforce.com are a reaction to the need to understand and prosper from our sales and CRM data. Soon there will be even more data to deal with from thousands and thousands of sensors and machines talking to each other as well as to us.

Sensors will and are being embedded in everything, including most products you make or sell and most products you will buy, and whilst each one on their own is quite dumb, once you connect them to each other, customers, suppliers and their manufacturers, the possibilities grow exponentially. At the moment most of us, and that’s companies as well as us as individuals, are entrusting the collection of all of this data to the big organisations vying to be that collection and control point, companies like IBM, Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Salesforce but it won’t all be down to them, and if you don’t get involved soon then companies such as these, or new ones, may eventually move on from simply collecting and storing data for others to analyse and also absorb those functions and roles that you think your company does now.

Which if you are still reading this brings me on to you.

Whatever you do, whether you be a plant pot or watering system manufacturer, a recruiter, paint company, an auctioneer, a retailer, an office furnishing company or a car rental company. In a few years you won’t just be learning about your customers from the data you have about them and how they interact with you your products and your services, you will also be able to receive and potentially share data on all of your products life cycles, and other products and services that your customers allow you to interact with. It’s a new wild west right now and everyone is grabbing territory. Those companies and individuals that come up with useful and clever ways to add or create value by collecting this and other data, and analysing it for insights and new possibilities will exist. These that don’t, might not survive.

This unstoppable wave of change and discovery is going to create huge challenges and disruptions to society, commerce and individuals. Focusing on looking for positives though, means that every company should be considering what we or they can do to work with this new world now.

Thinkers, digital companies, start-ups and blue-chip companies have had the march on forecasting (and in part creating) this future for us for some time now and most of us have read about it (you’re doing that again right now), but I feel that even those of us whose responsibility it is to create products, services and solutions to help us or our customers benefit from this are mostly reacting passively.

Almost like we are watching this happening to us. Or to them, over there.

This isn’t the future any more, it’s not a fiction story, it is really happening and it’s happening to you. Look at Kickstarter, read Wired, read the Financial Times and the Economist. It isn’t science fiction, it’s just smaller and smaller often very low cost bits of circuitry that will be in everything which together have the capacity to change much of what we do. Including our businesses. So don’t be passive, ask yourself.

What are you and your company going to do about it?

What do you do now that you could change or improve by using these new technologies? What could you invent? What data can you collect? What do you make that could talk back to you, or to something else? What does someone else make that could tell you something useful to help you service your customers, or win new ones more effectively? What is your digital strategy for data? Not for the Web or for SEO or for your internal data bases, but what is your strategy for IOT and M2M. What other questions should you be asking yourself?

Grab a pen, free think and start with a list.

Comments welcomed!