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Goodbye Analog: The Birth of the Next Business Age

The last vestiges of the analog business world finally disappeared when stay at home orders hit in March. It's now the Age of Data.
Nov 4th, 2020 1:00pm by
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Cockroach Labs sponsored this post.

Peter Guagenti
Peter is Chief Marketing Officer at Cockroach Labs.

When the Netscape web browser was released in December 1994, that simple piece of software kicked off a wave of transformation of historic proportions in our business and personal lives. The internet would break decades-old hegemonies in distribution, retail, media, finance, and almost every other industry, spawning an entire new generation of both businesses and consumers. The pace of that change has been unrelenting and, over the years, it’s kept us wondering how long that seemingly endless digital transformation would go on.

Now we know. The last vestiges of the analog business world — those companies who stubbornly deferred their own digital transformations, and those individuals who refused to move to digital channels for their needs — finally disappeared when stay at home orders hit in March. As Satya Nadella put it during Microsoft’s earnings call in April, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

It is now imperative that every executive understand what data is being collected and how it can be used to improve our businesses.

There’s a certain symmetry in the almost to-the-day preciseness of the next wave of transformation. Twenty-five years from the transcendent release of Netscape 1.1, to the point which we all were forced to accept that we now live in a digital-centric world. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Digital Transformation Set the Stage for the Data Age

As digital transformation comes to its logical conclusion, this makes room for another wave of change that has been brewing. And at the center of the coming storm is data.

We are now in a world with cheap, ubiquitous cloud computing, freely available and rapidly developing machine learning and deep learning tools, and seemingly endless amounts of real-time data at our fingertips. The access to deep insight and the tools to unlock it are now in the hands of virtually every business in the world.

What will we do with it?

We spent the 25 years of digital transformation creating real-time connections with our customers, automating our businesses, and streamlining operations. We did this by creating software that relied upon logic trees and pre-defined rules, iteratively refining those experiences based on our observations.

But that’s not what Facebook, Google, or Netflix have been up to. They created dynamic, personalized experiences that didn’t just respond to your needs, but delivered what you needed before you even thought to ask. They used their massive computing power, armies of engineers, and petabytes of data to redefine (for better or for worse) the advertising and media businesses which they now dominate. And this algorithm-fueled redefinition is not just confined to the social media we’re all familiar with. Uber fundamentally changed dispatching for transportation, food and freight, by using data science to best match demand with supply. Amazon has had a similar impact on manufacturing and distribution. So-called “robo advisers” are slowly eating away at the need for wealth managers. Bots are beginning to replace customer support professionals. Image recognition is transforming law enforcement and border control. The list goes on and on.

In order to survive, organizations will need to rethink how they operate yet again; using algorithms and data models to leverage autonomous decision-making, replacing the logic-driven applications and business processes they worked so hard to deploy in recent years. This will create new experiences, new products and services, and even new business models for those bold enough to think big.

Embracing the Data Revolution 

COVID-19’s ambush on the world has already forced several industries to succumb to the data revolution.

Pre-COVID, think about the last time you got your doctor on the phone, let alone have them for 30 minutes on a video call. Our homes have become waiting rooms, work places, movie theaters, banks and more — and our technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives. COVID-19 is pushing us more quickly into a data revolution — forcing customers to expect even more and innovators to find new ways to service these demands and differentiate from a raft of competitors.

Customer expectations are more demanding than ever before. We have all been taught to expect a better product, with the best possible customer experience, and to have it handed to us RIGHT NOW. Apple, Google, Netflix and countless other data-fuelled brands showed us how data can drive instantaneous and personalized experiences that fulfill our every whim.

With limitless data and the infrastructure to finally use it, what will tomorrow’s businesses create to serve the impatient, insatiable consumer appetite?

It’s time for each of us as business leaders to look at our products and services with a fresh understanding of this changing market and the powerful tools we now have at our disposal. If I as a business can predict what you need before you ask, what impact does that have on the products I offer and how I bring them to market? If I can provide a dynamic, personalized experience that satisfies each individual customer, what does that mean for the services I can provide? If we can process nearly a petabyte of data in seconds, what implications does that have on how businesses make decisions? These capabilities and more are here thanks to rampant innovation in data infrastructure and tools over the past five years, and it’s all effortlessly accessible thanks to the ubiquity of open source and the cloud.

It is now imperative that every executive understand what data is being collected and how it can be used to improve our businesses.

The data revolution is starting to spread across industries. The same approach that drove the breakthroughs in digital transformation are driving rapid advances in data-driven applications, dynamic experiences, and model-powered decision making. This is creating a wave of model-driven applications powered by algorithms and AI. This revolution is also beginning to separate winners from losers, similar to what we saw at the onset of digital transformation. Early innovators reaped massive benefits, while laggards seemingly evaporated overnight. That will happen again, and sooner than we all might realize.

If you only take one thing from this piece, I hope it’s this: transformation is inevitable, spurring innovation that changes our lives. It’s only getting easier to be a successful participant in the data revolution. The models, the data tools, and the underlying infrastructure to unlock the potential of machine learning and AI is available to every business right now, and they’re getting more powerful every day. What are you going to do about it?

Feature image from Pixabay.

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