Don't get lost in data – use it to make a meaningful difference

Tash Whitmey is group CEO of Havas helia, and is obsessed with the power of data in creating human insights.

Data, data, data. Those of us that have lived and breathed the stuff are at a difficult time. The bandwagon has well and truly arrived and it’s threatening to come to a standstill with the sheer weight of sheep on board.

Smart data: Google Contact Lens

Like most fads, from cloud computing to digital, its true transformational opportunity risks getting lost before it gets off the ground. Why? Because of too many people getting involved that don’t have a proper understanding of data.

Technology is at its worst when it is utilised in a mindless and mind-numbing way that offers no real value, when it is applied for application’s sake. Think of the difference between Google Glass and the Google Contact Lens. One failed spectacularly because it offered nothing of value, the other has the potential to make a life-changing impact on the millions of diabetes sufferers around the world.

There are those who talk about data with the sophistication of old snake oil sellers, peddling technology or services that deliver very little value. In most cases, the value of technology to a business takes a backseat to the people selling it. Many agencies and data service providers add to the problem with their jargon, complexity and misaligned business models. Someone has to implement data, connect it, ask smart questions and come up with the right strategy to make it all work.

Elsewhere, data is being used by smart people to solve real problems because they know that it is just another medium – a powerful medium for creativity, problem solving, and transformation. The difference is they are asking the right questions first, the human questions, the ones that don’t revolve around cost per click, impressions or ‘omni-channel’. They are helping people build businesses and improve their lives through peer to peer payments, helping cities reduce pollution, or helping to bring education to more people faster and more efficiently.

It’s time we stop looking backwards to find opportunities in gaps that already exist, and start looking forwards to find opportunities to make a difference.

Customers will always value businesses that have expertise in creating products, services and content that works ‘for’ them.

Tash Whitmey is group CEO of Havas helia

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