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Data enabled innovation

April 11, 2014

Vinod Kumar   

Former Managing Director and Group CEO Tata Communications

In another post I made reference to IBM’s Watson software – the closest thing we have right now to a true cognitive engine that learns and adapts. Incredibly, Watson understands natural language, making connections directly between computer and people and is able to make judgment calls based on probabilities of various outcomes in any given situation. It’s a fantastic achievement in its own right but perhaps the most exciting aspect of this mind-blowing technology is the way it can be utilised for healthcare, finance and data analysis. The possibilities are only limited by our narrow thinking and how we envisage using a tool like this. That’s an important point. I recently read that Alibaba uses data it generates on the shampoo buying behaviour of its customers to predict and determine the credit risk for its adjacent business of giving small personal loans. What Alibaba has done is take a known commodity – the buying habits of hairwashing consumers – and has used that insight to assess viability of a different business model. A revolutionary way of thinking about data.

I’m sure, like me, you remember the famous beer and diapers story. In the late 1990s a story circulated of a US retailer using advanced software to analyse buying patterns. Once the numbers were crunched, it rearranged store layouts to put babies’ nappies close to packaged beer – the analysis of late-night shopping patterns had found lots of shoppers bought both items together. That approach of responding to established data patterns is now beginning to change. Now we’re seeing more people thinking about how data can be analysed through a different lens and used to create new products, services and buying opportunities.

Take the healthcare sector. The healthcare sector is no stranger to information. Each time you fill a prescription or visit a doctor more information is generated about you. It has, to date, been a fairly linear process. In the future – and here I mean the very near future, as in within the decade – it is likely that people in the developed world will have the opportunity to carry a health sensor on their body that reports back on their health to their doctor. Just imagine the potential for medical research in having live data about the body’s response to everyday stimuli across millions of people. The possibilities of medical innovation driven by true and accessible data are limited only by our human ability to innovate.

Take a further look at the business world – the innovative use of data we have addresses a problem thousands of businesses are beginning to face. Business relationships have become so commoditised that many of the relationships we relied upon in the past are now delivered by the cloud. It is hard for companies to differentiate, to show that they understand their customers and so build value. Yet, we know so much more about our customers today than at any other point in business history. We have the opportunity to leverage this data-driven insight through asking the smart and creative questions and searching out correlations and exceptions.

I meet customers every day who are looking at their businesses and trying to find the next leap that pushes them out ahead of the competition. As their partner, I see it as our opportunity to bring new thinking to the table. Recently I met the CIO of one of our larger customers in Asia who was questioning how he most effectively meets the access needs of his end users. In the end it came down to how we leveraged and presented the data we have about access patterns via VPN and Internet, and the applications that prosumers use. By proving value to the data he already had we were able to co-create a solution that will enable him to exceed even his own expectations. That has to be one of the ultimate proof points for data-driven innovation…

Do you agree? Leave a comment to let us know your thoughts.