Is data really that important to a business?

Global Publication February 2021

A quick survey of the top companies by market capitalization readily reveals that data is key. While one or two depend on physical infrastructure or even hardware sales, generally speaking the remainder have:

  • Established platforms and / or cloud service businesses that bring in huge volumes of real-time data.
  • Typically home-grown superior algorithms / data analytics capability.
  • Super computing power to translate that data into patterns and insight – that is, human and business thinking (such as concerns, interests, and desires of businesses and consumers).

Such insight can enable timely investment decisions, improvement in product and services offerings (for example, detecting defects and modifying products to suit customer needs),1 maximization of cost efficiencies, personalization of experience (bringing the business and customer ever closer), and an increase in revenue and profits.

Historically, businesses used vast amounts of capital to build proprietary software and systems, providing a ready barrier to entry as against competitors and new market entrants. However, with the ubiquity of open source software and everything “as a service” on the cloud, such a strategy is not nearly so effective now at shoring up market position.

Instead, the new digital market frontier is the development of sophisticated data analytics in combination with the ability to collect and process vast amounts of data – a position reinforced by their use in combination with increasingly sophisticated AI.


More open data?

Some governments have for some time been encouraging more open availability of data, both that held by the state and that held by businesses; and a number of competition / antitrust authorities are paying far more attention to data held by businesses.

Perhaps partly in recognition of this, we may be witnessing the first tentative steps being taken by some of the world’s largest businesses in the direction of making some of their data available to a wider range of stakeholders with a view to collaborating, and perhaps even in furtherance of wider environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives.

Recent cooperative ventures in relation to COVID-19 tracing apps are a case in point.


1   Especially automotive and machinery producers are exemplary of sectors in which the main players produce and collect sizeable amounts of data and use their IT capacities mostly to improve their own products rather than to develop new services on top of the data. See Commission Staff Working Document on the Free Flow Of Data and Emerging Issues of the European Data Economy.