The new data-divide in digital business

Why companies no longer have a choice in becoming 'data-driven' in order to survive in business today.
24 December 2018

People talk about data a lot. Some say probably too much. Certainly, many people probably forget that data is a plural… and that one individual singular piece of data should actually be referred to as a datum.

Grammatical niggles aside, in the midst of all the digital transformation rhetoric that seems to fly around almost every day now, we appear to be having this discussion about data in business more and more.

The technology industry goes to great pains to explain to us that modern contemporary businesses have to be data-driven in order to remain competitive.

But what does ‘data-driven’ really mean? What are the alternatives and what do we call firms who refuse to run on some new data-centric operational backbone?

Data-driven definitions

We have come to accept ‘data-driven’ as a sort of new-age adjective that can be used to describe potentially any activity.

Data-driven journalism is reporting (text, but also graphs and other reports) that emanates from analyzing huge data sets. Data-driven marketing is commercial marketing management dictated by data movements. Data-driven IT security is malware and virus provisioning based upon data analytics… and so on.

Data-driven cooking doesn’t exist, but if it did it would be recipe development based upon the statistical analysis of food consumption taking into account regional tastes, culture, seasons, agriculture and every other measurable and quantifiable factor we could use to produce supporting data.

Logically then, data-driven business is the process of forming and executing management decisions inside organizations based upon the results of data analytics directed at defined parameters and indicators that the business agrees to monitor.

What data-driven business isn’t… is the old way of doing things.

That is, executing management (and all other departmental) decisions based upon experience, on-the-job knowledge and plain old-fashioned intuition.

No alternative?

So if all businesses are now software businesses because we all depend upon applications and the data within them to run, is there any alternative? The most likely is not really, no.

What is arguably really important now is that firms in every vertical start thinking about data management and data analytics over and above the core requirements of just having an IT department to serve employees with apps.

What that leads us to is the skills issue… and this time it’s data science skills. Organizations may have developer/programmers, systems architects and all manner of IT operations personnel from Database Administrators to security testers… but now they also need data science pros.

And if organizations don’t find these new data science gurus pretty soon, then what happens?

According to the 2019 Trends In Data report from analyst house 451 Research, the shortage of data science skills means that unless machine learning gets easier to implement, progress and adoption will slow.

“The long-term goal must be to open up machine learning to all types of developers, not just those with strong data science skills. This also means eventually opening up machine learning to users of low-code and no-code development environments,” notes the 451 report.

The 451 analysts suggest that one of the most important other factors here is the need to operationalize data analytics.

This means not just finding data, cleaning data, compartmentalizing and categorizing it and then putting it through data analytics engines— it means taking those data analytics results and plugging them back into business models so that decisions can be made.


The wider suggestion here is that firms who fail to become data-driven are the ones that will ultimately be the losers. These are firms who still operate with what might be relatively substantial IT departments, but they don’t really do much with their data.

These are not the data-driven businesses, these are the data drifters.

Most of us will probably have an idea of whether they work for a forward-looking data-driven organization or whether their employer is treading water as a data-drifter. The informational tidal wave has risen, it’s time to jump in and start swimming.