Conventional wisdom: Big data and robots are conspiring to invade customer privacy.
On the contrary: Data helps us help you. And seriously, we don't care about the personal stuff.
As an entrepreneur, I don't care about your cell phone records, your questionable downloads or your strange hypochondria-inspired Google searches. All I want to do is fix your problems. My goal --and this is where I need your help--is to make something that improves your life.
That means I need to understand the collective you. I don't care about your hopes or your dreams or your ideal date. I'm just interested in small snippets of aggregate data, such as the product features our customers use most often. You'd be surprised, in the hands of the right engineer, the innovation that these innocuous bits of data inspire.
You Want Smart Tech. Really.
When I look to a business climate just around the bend--say, 2020--I don't see a sea change in leadership, innovation or company culture. Instead, I imagine that like me, my customers want a smarter, more efficient life. I know I do, because I remember what business was like before electronics.
In the late 1970s, when my wife and I worked in insurance in Texas, much of our day was spent doing manual tasks--marking up documents with a pen and sending them to the typing pool to be re-typed, driving to the library to do research, and calling people to request documents that had to be retrieved from a file room and delivered internally via the company mail cart, externally via the U.S. Postal Service.
Nothing about our intellectual capability is different today (except maybe what you get with time), but in retrospect, I feel dumb when I think back to spending two days on a task that would now take me two hours at a computer. Of course, the work I do now is different, but the efficiency with which I review emails and access information makes me feel as though I've landed in a playground for innovation.
The Better We Know You, the Better We Can Build For You
Our products are getting smarter: We put computers in fans and processors into lights to turn them off or down when people aren't around, minimizing the amount of energy used.
But there's still a lot of waste involved in sales and marketing. For example, we still have salespeople out there driving around; it's old school and it's expensive (there's the cost of gas, the car, the hours, plus any fast food they might eat), but we shoulder that expense because there are gaps in our knowledge of our customers. Access to better data will allow us to streamline the process of getting a product to your door.
Yet the wasted energy that bothers me most is the chasm between imagining what our customers need and knowing what they need. Bridging that gap means focusing our investment on research and marketing that gets the best product into the right hands.
The Power of Data Can Make the World a Greener Place, Too
As a manufacturer, my goal is to make a more efficient world. That's the goal of every engineer at my company, and the closest thing I can see to an accelerant is data. As an industry, I believe we'll get smarter. It might not be by 2020, but the only tea leaves I can read are in the numbers.