Ten years ago, back in January 2009, when Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, and when the world economy was still recovering from the global financial crisis, Google’s chief economist Hal Varian made some predictions on the role of data over the next decade. How data gets managed, how data gets shared, and how data gets used within a business:
I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. People think I’m joking, but who would’ve guessed that computer engineers would’ve been the sexy job of the 1990s? The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, not only at the professional level but even at the educational level for elementary school kids, for high school kids, for college kids. Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.
It’s not the data itself which is the problem, but what to do with it. Most businesses have Google Analytics on their website, collecting mountains of data, month after month, year after year. Thousands of email logs, thousands of sales records, millions of search queries. But the data just sits there, adding no value.
No-one’s looking at your data, no-one’s doing the analysis, no-one’s extracting the insights. No-one has time any more. The data just keeps on collecting, waiting for that elusive day when you finally figure out what to do with it all.
Hal Varian again in 2018:
In my experience, the problem is not a lack of resources, but a lack of skills. A company that has data but no-one to analyse it is in a poor position to take advantage of that data.
Even within the world’s top organisations, only 21% of company executives adopt more than a single form of intelligent data technology. The data is there, the tools are there, but no-one’s using the tools.
Hal Varian once again:
When we encountered this Big Data back in the early 2000’s, we had to build systems to manage massive amounts of data. But now these systems have become open source, what’s taken us years to develop has become commoditised. I refer to this as democratisation of data, because the data is available to everybody, the tools to analyse are available to everybody, the tricky part is the expertise.
The data is available. The tools are available. But no-one’s doing the analysis.