The Data Evolution — Part II

by | Dec 6, 2021 | 2021, Data-driven cultures, POV

How the Brains and Nervous Systems of Data Ignite Corporate and Collaborative Cognition

Just as I began to write this essay, eyewear startup Warby Parker effectively made the point of my last post on data’s new “Cambrian age” — The company generated $6.7 billion in its IPO debut. 

This success reflects the fact that decade-old Warby Parker is less an eyewear retailer than it is a master of data driving the optometrical universe — like Airbnb leveraging data in lodging, Oscar in health insurance, or Spotify in music.

Those successes should not obscure the fact that most companies remain overwhelmed by data. In fact, among those leading the Fortune 500, 75 percent say they don’t believe their companies are data-driven, two thirds don’t regard data as an asset, and more than half say they are not yet driving innovation with data, according to the consultancy New Vantage Partners. 

“When I think about the behavior of many business people today, I imagine a breadline,” wrote Tomasz Tunguz in Winning With Data. “The employees are the data-poor waiting around at the end of the day on the data breadline.”

Hoarding Data

Executives don’t get what they need. Sometimes, they don’t even know what they need. IT departments rush between data silos to the point of exhaustion. A staggering 70 percent of data engineers say they are likely to quit in the next year, according to an October 2021 study conducted by Wakefield Research and co-sponsored by data.world and DataKitchen. Teams literally brawl over decision-making in the absence of accessible and verifiable data. The pandemic has exacerbated this, siloeing people along with the already-siloed data.

Another view on this comes from the towering thinker on our emerging data-driven civilization, Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired and author of books including The Inevitable. He dubs this inertia the “counter force” that contrasts with much outlying success.

“… right now data tends to be hoarded like gold,” Kelly writes. 

I believe what is specifically lacking is cognition — the acquisition of knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses — within and between enterprises. 

At the end of the day, what we provide our enterprise customers and community members is simply a new, innovative form of cognition — corporate cognition for our enterprise customers, and collaborative cognition for our 1.4-million-plus community members who use our platform to confront climate change, poverty, COVID-19, and more.

Reducing Data Work from Months to Hours

Cognition results from a healthy nervous system of the sensory inputs of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and vision, and the motor outputs enabling motion, breath, and organ function, all interacting through the control and command of the brain. A data catalog is, in many ways, the central nervous system of the enterprise; the sensory organ that connects sales, customer service, marketing, development, IT, HR, finance, supply chain, operations, and accounting. 

A knowledge graph, meanwhile, is the semantic architecture of meaning and reasoning; it is the learning organism to which users apply all manner of data ontologies and taxonomies. Like the human brain, it gets smarter and smarter. As the brain of your enterprise, it powers the motor functions of your operations through the data catalog. Knowledge graphs are what power Google, Facebook, and a large part of Amazon. 

The concept of a knowledge graph dates back to the 1980s, and early academic research on semantic, or concept-connecting, networks. The notion of a data catalog — an inventory of data and particularly metadata — originated before that, to the creation of SABRE, the airline industry’s reservation system that debuted in 1964. 

Agile Data Governance

At data.world, we have evolved and woven these tightly together, into a seamless platform that allows users to query it, to execute upon it, and to make well-informed decisions once impossible. The results are highly collaborative, thinking organizations — far more efficient and effective than their competitors. 

“We now do in half a day what we couldn’t do in six months,” Michael Murray, the former president of the data division at the global digital agency Wunderman Thompson, told us. 

In sum, we call this catalyst of cognition, “Agile Data Governance.” 

In my next post I’ll talk about Agile Data Governance and how it enables companies to share their data creatively, productively, and responsibly.