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Treating data as an asset gives a leg up on the competition

Looking for a competitive advantage? Look no further than your own data.

“Every organization has information that’s worth more [by] sharing [it] than keeping it for itself,” Frank Buytendijk, an analyst at Gartner, said at the recent Gartner Enterprise Information and Master Data Management Summit.

An easy-to-point-to example is General Electric and its sensor-driven, money-making industrial Internet. But even for companies that aren’t dealing with industrial-grade jet engines, MRI machines and wind turbines, the concept of data as an asset can open new doors, Buytendijk said.

Take, for example, John West, a U.K. canned-seafood manufacturer. The company tags each tuna it catches with a unique number, which follows the fish from the boat to the grocery-store shelf. Customers can punch that number into the company’s website and learn when and where the fish was caught and the boat that caught it.

Providing visibility into the fishing process adds consumer confidence, according to Buytendijk. “Every company can do something like this within six months,” he said. But every company won’t. By 2016, Gartner predicts only 30% of companies will have figured out ways to exploit their own data, a figure small enough to suggest that businesses that successfully find new roles for company data will have a leg up on the competition.

That’s if the data is used ethically and doesn’t exploit the customer. Amsterdam-based TomTom International, a manufacturer of automated navigation systems, found that out the hard way. A pioneer in geolocation systems, TomTom was the first to introduce bi-directional traffic information, Buytendijk said. For a monthly fee, customers’ traffic information was pushed to the TomTom servers, and consolidated traffic information more reliable than they’d find on the radio was provided to them.

Buytendijk called it a “fantastic business model,” driving revenue and creating customer value. TomTom also disclosed that it would anonymize customer data and sell it. And the company did — to the government. Selling to the agency in charge of roadwork made sense and provided even more value to the customer. But TomTom also sold data to police, who used the information to set up speed traps.

“It’s an efficient use of taxpayer money,” Buytendijk said. “But it got slaughtered in the papers.”

The negative publicity might have been prevented if TomTom had only followed a basic data privacy/ethics rule of thumb. “The more the analytical use of data is removed from your original intention of measurement, the bigger the potential issue,” Buytendijk said.

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