Data as Tools for Economic Growth

October 21, 2014
Senior Adviser, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

In my home state of Maine, the leaves are on the ground and everyone is getting ready for cold weather. It’s a busy time for the owner of my local hardware store, who has to figure out how he’ll keep all the snowblowers, shovels, and ice scrapers in stock during the long winter.

These days, he surely has special programs to help him with the preparations. High-end software tracks sales and notifies him when it’s time to order more products. He can even track shipments online to keep customers informed of when new items arrive at the store.

In fact, I recently thought about my local hardware store during an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. 

It was my pleasure on October 7 to kick off the Foundation’s summit on The Future of Data-Driven Innovation, a truly dynamic event that highlighted the myriad ways that data improve our lives and boost American competitiveness.

We know that the amount of data being collected today is mind-boggling—the amount produced in just one day is more than all the data produced before the turn of the century.

Think about the terabytes of weather data collected by meteorologists when it snows in Maine. Or the information collected by hotel chains, airlines, and the state highway administration.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to WEX, a Maine-based company that has become an industry leader in financial management for fleet operations. Key to WEX’s success is its proprietary software, which enables fleets to control purchases in the field. The software also helps fleet managers analyze operations and reduce costs.  

Last year, WEX helped process more than 371 million fuel transactions, and its revenues rose 15%, to more than $717 million. This is a company seeing tremendous growth, and it’s because of its focus on data-driven solutions.

The amount of data out there is startling, but it’s also exciting. I enjoy hearing about all of the ways that data are used to promote economic growth and make our lives better. 

Consider the farmers who use data-driven applications to optimize land and water usage and increase crop yields.

Think of the doctors who use data to offer more individualized care for patients.

Or consider a company like Food Cowboy, that uses data to route unsold food from supermarkets to those in need.

These are examples of data doing good, offering the potential to expand our national economy and improve American competitiveness.

It is reasonable to debate the complex issues relating to the intersection of data, privacy, and cybersecurity. But there is no reason to fear data. Data are neither good nor bad. Data are tools, and increasingly these tools are being used in remarkably innovative ways.

I urge you to read our research report The Future of Data-Driven Innovation, as well as a recap of our event.

Also, be sure to look out for more data-related content in an upcoming issue of Business Horizon Quarterly. It should make for great reading as we settle in for a chilly winter.