This piece, which discusses the limitless potential for data and the need for chief data officers (CDOs) in progressive companies, appeared first in Forbes. The author, Nikita Shamgunov, is co-founder and co-CEO of SingleStore, and a member of the Forbes Technology Council.
Data has incredible potential. It has the superpower to enable us to do things that were not previously possible. Armed with the right data, organizations can deliver better performance, financial results and user experiences.
Businesses use their data to understand supply and demand, and when and where additional capacity is needed. Governments and other organizations can use data to help save lives in battles like we’re fighting today, as well as to gain data dominance and insights to win wars.
One immediate example that comes to mind is COVID-19 contact tracing. Contact tracing (or cellphone tracing) is proving useful in helping to marginalize the spread of the virus. Given the global crisis and risks people are facing in some areas, countries such as China, Israel, Singapore and South Korea were among the first to pass laws enabling these practices during such situations.
Once someone is identified as infected, these governments can access that person’s mobile phone records and instantly run a geo search. This real-time technology poses obvious privacy concerns, as it allows governments to identify people who were in the vicinity of an infected person in the past two weeks, locate them and test them. If they test positive, those people can be quarantined. This is particularly important considering some people who come in contact with infected individuals get the virus but don’t display symptoms, so they are unaware they are infected.
The U.S. is reportedly doing work on this front, too. Reports say that the U.S. is gathering advertising data to understand where people are congregating. And part of the coronavirus economic relief bill earmarks $500 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help build a surveillance and data collection system that models some of the strongest use case guidelines to anonymize data while preventing spontaneous large gatherings from occurring.

Big Datasets Require Bottomless Storage And Infinite Amount Of Compute

In the U.S. alone if we were to track these data points, that would include hundreds of millions of subscribers — and that’s just people. There are also other devices with cellphone connections. If you track the location of each device on a per-second, or even a per-minute, basis, you would be able to collect a tremendous amount of data.
Once the datasets get really big, you need data storage that is vast and essentially bottomless. Your storage should be able to store all data for you, regardless of how much data you have, and it should be accessible in the cloud. Cloud technology provides an infinite number of Lego bricks from which to assemble your solution. A cloud-native solution gives you infinite storage and infinite storage compute.
When such databases are paired with artificial intelligence (AI), they allow organizations to also spot the unknowns. The possibilities expand. You can find clusters of infections and then predict where the spread is going to happen next. You can also do modeling, which enables you to answer a tremendous number of critical questions. Based on those findings, you can then identify questions you didn’t even think about asking with insights surfaced by combing through the dataset. This is when you see data revealing its true power.

Enabling Organizations To Understand Situations And Optimize Experiences

This global pandemic illustrates why it is essential for businesses and institutions to keep a pulse on their data. It is critical to understand not just how many cases there are, but also how people are moving around. By understanding what is being advised to prevent the spread of the virus, how it is being enforced and how it is having an impact, you need speed to insight. The answers to these questions must be quickly accessible; otherwise, you are operating blind.
To help track the spread of COVID-19, there is no need to reinvent the wheel — the business tools to gather insights from data exist today. The data problems of COVID-19 are not fundamentally different from what Uber does to track supply and demand, Hulu does to get viewer insights and Amazon does to make product recommendations.
Many businesses figured out a long time ago that harnessing data correctly is insanely powerful. Cellular service and video streaming providers rely on data-driven insights to understand the quality of service that customers in different corners of the country are experiencing. These service providers use this technology to identify where and when they need more capacity on their networks. In this instance, these multimillion-dollar decisions, such as whether to build a cell tower based on usage patterns, come down to the data providing a 360-degree view to predict business outcomes.

But That Level Of Visibility Requires A Data Strategy And A Champion

Companies thriving in this new normal are typically those that are focused on getting 360 visibility into what their clients do. In many ways, COVID-19 has presented us all with the opportunity to rethink our data strategies because businesses had to change how they did things within days of receiving the shelter-in-place orders.
Data strategy used to be one of many priorities of the CIO. It is now critical that progressive companies hire chief data officers (CDOs). The larger the company, the more prominent that CDO position should be. This is because companies commonly have data stored in disparate systems. That makes it hard to understand the 360 journeys of customers. It takes effort and energy to bring all the data together to get 360 visibility and create strategy around artificial intelligence, data management and user experience.
It is essential to have an executive voice, such as a CDO, to drive data strategy. The federal government has a rule requiring every U.S. agency to have a CDO. Interestingly enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just posted its CDO job on March 31. We have never before needed CDOs, data strategies and massively scalable solutions as much as we do now.
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