Looking Ahead: Using Data to See the Future Faster

Nick Davis
May 6, 2019
Exponential Enterprise

A common thread within the SU ecosystem is our shared love of data. Our community of innovators and inspired solvers includes smart, passionate, and action-oriented people who apply exponential technologies to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges. But the idea of freely sharing knowledge and insights with your community and around the world is more challenging than it might seem. Future planning and addressing challenges at a global scale requires working with massive amounts of data.To illustrate how quickly our universe of data is growing, it’s estimated that the amount of data generated globally is doubling in size every two years. And by 2020, global data will reach 44 zettabytes. A single zettabyte of data translates to 250 billion DVDs.

Big data is sometimes too big to be useful

Most people can’t conceive of 250 billion DVDs, or how much data a gigabyte or zettabyte contains. While the world’s data increases exponentially, our knowledge and insights are failing to keep up.It’s a popular analogy that in the digital age, data is the new oil. And there certainly are parallels. Like oil, data becomes more valuable as it is processed and refined. And just as oil has little commercial value in its raw form beneath the Earth’s surface, simply capturing large amounts of unstructured data adds little value to your organization.And though the size of the data universe is mind-boggling, the opportunities afforded by this abundance of data are clear. You and your organization now have the tools and technology to use data in unprecedented ways: gaining new customer and competitive insights, automating cumbersome business processes, accelerating speed-to-market—and transforming your organization to see emerging opportunities and reach the future first.Using visualizations is a proven way to make sense of large datasets. For example, say you’re a tech executive seeking new applications and markets for your core technology. Which markets hold the greatest potential for future profits? Consider two descriptions of price changes in consumer goods since 1997, one presented as text, the other as a data visualization (see examples A and B, respectively, below). Which is more actionable?Example A: Text-based descriptionA combination of industrial offshoring, technological innovation, and economies of scale have resulted in a price decline in goods such as televisions (-96% since 1997), software (-67%), toys (-69%), and clothing (-4%). In contrast, the prices of goods and services such as education, childcare, medical care, and housing have increased significantly, rising by 150%, 110%, 100%, and 58%, respectively.Example B: Data visualization

Data visualization

As an executive looking for opportunities, you would probably opt to use the visual information to inform your decisions and share with colleagues. Within this visual, you may quickly perceive that there may be opportunities to build solutions that help people deal with soaring costs in education, healthcare, and childcare.

“If I understand a problem better, there are higher chances I can find a better solution for it.” —Enrico Bertini

Why data visualization matters

Data visualization enables non-technical users to gain insights and make evidence-based decisions from sophisticated data analysis. Visual data storytelling has many advantages when it comes to making data usable:Speed: Humans are visual creatures. Our brains recognize and process visual data much more quickly than we can process audio or text. According to some estimates, our brains process images in as little as 13 milliseconds, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. We should take advantage of our strong visual nature to enhance our use of data and drive organizational effectiveness. Data visualization puts information into a form that allows us to quickly identify patterns and draw conclusions.Pattern recognition: If you have ever pored over hundreds of rows in a data table or spreadsheet in search of insights, you know the problem. Using visualization allows users to recognize important data and trends. This enables users to identify insights that were impossible to see using tabular data. Decision-makers can analyze data more quickly using graphical representations than tabular formats.Analysis: Using data visualizations allows users to take in the big picture and the details at the same time. Data visualizations enable us to emphasize key data points in a way that guides users to interact with only the most relevant data. Data visualizations are also a step toward more interactive data analysis, which can reveal a deeper understanding of your organization’s challenges. Self-serve analytics tools are becoming increasingly popular because they enable users to perform meaningful data analysis once limited to technical users.

Data visualization

Harnessing data for exponential growth

“Data democratization means that everybody has access to data and there are no gatekeepers that create a bottleneck at the gateway to the data.”—Bernard Marr

Technologists and data scientists in the Singularity University global community are proponents of democratization, which involves creating value by making products or services accessible to a wider audience (and which happens as exponential technologies converge). Computers and mobile devices are examples of goods that have become democratized as they become available and usable to larger numbers of people, thanks to Moore’s Law.Data visualization is a powerful example of democratization because it allows everyone in your organization to access and analyze your organization’s data from a single source of truth to build shared insights and fuel better, faster decisions. Data visualization increases the value of data by making it accessible to all business units, from marketing to human resources and customer support—no technical or advanced analysis skills needed.When the power of data analytics is combined with exponential technologies like artificial intelligence, the impact of these unprecedented insights and opportunities impacts all industries, from healthcare and transportation to manufacturing and retail.The impact of data democratization will gain momentum as powerful visual data platforms emerge to provide valuable data insights that can inform better decisions and drive exponential growth.