Final Word: BHQ #12

December 19, 2014
Vice President of Research and Emerging Issues

By Rich Cooper, Vice President of Emerging Issues & Research, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Human beings are (and have always been) data-driven decision makers. We see it in simple, everyday activities. Noticing it is raining, we take an umbrella to work. Recognizing a sore throat and runny nose, we eat chicken soup and go to bed early. Hearing about an accident and slow-moving traffic on the highway, we select another route to wherever we are going. Data is an essential, unavoidable part of our lives. The enormous potential and promise in the Big Data era discussed in this BHQ edition owes to more computing power, cheaper digital storage, and an exponentially growing ocean of data. Nowhere is this more important and valuable than in the private sector.

Successful business is all about making the right decisions. The latest, greatest product does not easily move from concept to store shelves. Every step along the path to the marketplace is based on a decision—the product design, the type of materials, the place of manufacturing, the cost of production and the price for consumers, and much more. Armchair critics might surmise that sometimes business decisions are made with the shake of a Magic 8 Ball or putting one’s finger to the wind, but the fact is, most decisions are based on data.

To be sure, decision making is hard; making the right call in the right context is a difficult, uncertain endeavor. Business leaders have long “looked to the numbers” for insight into decision making, and that is because numbers tell a story whose moral is better business. New skills, technological tools, and data science allows business leaders to not just make better decisions but realize new opportunities they had not even considered. Indeed, the data revolution helps us ask the right questions and reveals the critical decisions that need to be made.

The power of data is cross-cutting, and its impact does not begin and end in the boardroom. The activities that constitute growing and running a business all generate data in some form, and this wealth of information can empower decision makers at all levels, from the CEO to the mail room. Bigger data yields deeper insights, informing better decisions, all of which can make a business more competitive and successful. The unfolding data revolution is an opportunity, and it is not one businesses can afford to miss. As Business Software Alliance Counselor Emery Simon said during a panel discussion for the Chamber Foundation’s "Future of Data-Driven Innovation" event, “If you’re not data-driven, you are programmed to fail.”

Above all things, the private sector caters to public need and demand, and data-driven innovation and operation help businesses do a better job of that. It is why data is such an awesome force for good. It helps deliver new products to consumers—and not just the latest tablet or fashion trend. DC Central Kitchen uses data to assess and improve its operation, which in turn means more people in need can receive nourishment and job skills. As Mikel Berger wrote in his article, data is spawning new services and businesses that help the agricultural industry make more efficient use of resources while maximizing yield. That means more business opportunity, more money in the pocket of America’s farmers, and most important, more food to fill dinner tables here and around the world. There are many examples like these, and even more when considering how the data-creating Internet of Things is changing the way we work, travel, use utilities, and indeed, enjoy the innumerable amount of services and data streams that are elevating the quality of our daily lives. By every measure and across every business sector, data is inherently a force for good.

Big Data holds many opportunities for improving governance, but it is America’s businesses that are the vanguard of the data revolution. This data revolution owes almost entirely to private sector leaders who recognized a new opportunity and seized on it. The public sector reacts to changes in technological capacity, but the private sector drives it. Businesses are the pioneers venturing into unknown territory. As always, there is a risk in investing time and resources in new exploration. Yet, with risk comes reward, and the awesome power of the free market has again proven its capacity to produce world-changing ideas and products.

The question for business leaders now is, will your organization embrace this data revolution? It is perhaps the most important and pressing decision for businesses in the 21st century. The answer you give will say even more about your vision for the future than the day you turned on the "Open for Business" sign and unlocked the front door for your first customer to enter.Human beings are (and have always been) data-driven decision makers. We see it in simple, everyday activities. Noticing it is raining, we take an umbrella to work. Recognizing a sore throat and runny nose, we eat chicken soup and go to bed early. Hearing about an accident and slow-moving traffic on the highway, we select another route to wherever we are going. Data is an essential, unavoidable part of our lives. The enormous potential and promise in the Big Data era discussed in this BHQ edition owes to more computing power, cheaper digital storage, and an exponentially growing ocean of data. Nowhere is this more important and valuable than in the private sector.

Successful business is all about making the right decisions. The latest, greatest product does not easily move from concept to store shelves. Every step along the path to the marketplace is based on a decision—the product design, the type of materials, the place of manufacturing, the cost of production and the price for consumers, and much more. Armchair critics might surmise that sometimes business decisions are made with the shake of a Magic 8 Ball or putting one’s finger to the wind, but the fact is, most decisions are based on data.

To be sure, decision making is hard; making the right call in the right context is a difficult, uncertain endeavor. Business leaders have long “looked to the numbers” for insight into decision making, and that is because numbers tell a story whose moral is better business. New skills, technological tools, and data science allows business leaders to not just make better decisions but realize new opportunities they had not even considered. Indeed, the data revolution helps us ask the right questions and reveals the critical decisions that need to be made.

The power of data is cross-cutting, and its impact does not begin and end in the boardroom. The activities that constitute growing and running a business all generate data in some form, and this wealth of information can empower decision makers at all levels, from the CEO to the mail room. Bigger data yields deeper insights, informing better decisions, all of which can make a business more competitive and successful. The unfolding data revolution is an opportunity, and it is not one businesses can afford to miss. As Business Software Alliance Counselor Emery Simon said during a panel discussion for the Chamber Foundation’s "Future of Data-Driven Innovation" event, “If you’re not data-driven, you are programmed to fail.”

Above all things, the private sector caters to public need and demand, and data-driven innovation and operation help businesses do a better job of that. It is why data is such an awesome force for good. It helps deliver new products to consumers—and not just the latest tablet or fashion trend. DC Central Kitchen uses data to assess and improve its operation, which in turn means more people in need can receive nourishment and job skills. As Mikel Berger wrote in his article, data is spawning new services and businesses that help the agricultural industry make more efficient use of resources while maximizing yield. That means more business opportunity, more money in the pocket of America’s farmers, and most important, more food to fill dinner tables here and around the world. There are many examples like these, and even more when considering how the data-creating Internet of Things is changing the way we work, travel, use utilities, and indeed, enjoy the innumerable amount of services and data streams that are elevating the quality of our daily lives. By every measure and across every business sector, data is inherently a force for good.

Big Data holds many opportunities for improving governance, but it is America’s businesses that are the vanguard of the data revolution. This data revolution owes almost entirely to private sector leaders who recognized a new opportunity and seized on it. The public sector reacts to changes in technological capacity, but the private sector drives it. Businesses are the pioneers venturing into unknown territory. As always, there is a risk in investing time and resources in new exploration. Yet, with risk comes reward, and the awesome power of the free market has again proven its capacity to produce world-changing ideas and products.

The question for business leaders now is, will your organization embrace this data revolution? It is perhaps the most important and pressing decision for businesses in the 21st century. The answer you give will say even more about your vision for the future than the day you turned on the "Open for Business" sign and unlocked the front door for your first customer to enter.