The daily deluge of data can be daunting. We can dive in, and deftly dodge its dangers, but we could also easily drown. There’s a whole industry in the creation, dissemination and digestion of data, and in the past, we’ve largely relied on central agencies to slug it out for us. In our digital age, paradoxically we expect data to flow to us for free, that the cost to business of the raw material—and increasingly, the valuable analysis—should be close to zero. Is this the proper approach?

Data sources used to be pretty concentrated. Now, the stuff is spewing out of myriad sources. Official data agencies, like Statistics Canada, are still the mainstay, and thankfully, nations everywhere are agreeing to provide their data free of charge. Moreover, methods of collection are getting more sophisticated and at the same time, more reliable. In our techno-digital age, it’s obvious that leveraging this data properly can be a sizable competitive advantage. 

As such, more outlets are getting into the data collection and dissemination game. Companies are posting more data, there are more private data gatherers, like polling companies, consultants are releasing more of the stuff, not to mention what’s available through satellite imaging, machinery, household appliances, vehicles, social media, smart phones, wrist devices, smart cards, real time polling—the list goes on and on.

Endless reams of new external data need to be sorted out, organized in a way that’s useful. At the company level, it requires an extra allocation of time and resources, something that large companies may find challenging, and that medium- and small-sized companies couldn’t do or haven’t even considered doing. But failure to create the ability to receive and process relevant data could be fatal. You can bet that a competitor somewhere on the planet—or their consultants—are doing it, with the aim of developing a market-owning strategy.

The beauty of this is that the data we are discussing is all publicly available. It’s sitting out there, in vast quantities, just a keystroke away, and is in greater quantity and at a lower price point than at any other time in human history. It has never cost the average business less to access all of this information. At the same time, everyone has access to it, so for those actually leveraging the data, well, the competition can get it too. It’s hard in that context to develop a unique “secret sauce.”

Thankfully, the quest doesn’t end there—far from it, actually. Data isn’t just something that someone else does. Companies now have the ability to generate reams of their own data, unique to them, stuff that is a custom mix that few, if any, others have in the same combination. The data is there—and sadly, many don’t realize it, or realize it but don’t really collect and organize it. But increasingly, maintaining a competitive edge will depend on what’s done to generate and use unique data. Manual digestion and strategy development are good first steps. Machines step up the game considerably. Imagine a data pool, or lake, unique to your company. Now, imagine an army of “data-bots” swimming around in that data, finding correlations and causal relationships between your data and the data of the rest of the world. These things can go at it 24-7 at a pace far beyond human capability. Add a dash of artificial intelligence, and it kicks up the output to a whole new quantum of strategic insight.

It may sound like a mega-project, but it needn’t be. All companies collect and store data, and that’s a good start. Centralizing this and ensuring efficient distribution is the next step. Analysis can happen at various levels of sophistication that can increase over time. What matters is that it’s happening and that the need to invest in this capability is ever more necessary.

The bottom line?

Many firms, Canadian exporters included, are sitting on a data goldmine that they’re completely or partially unaware of. Like any lode, this one takes people power, equipment, digging and a whole lot of ingenuity to unearth. In most cases, there’s way more gold than the diggers ever dreamed of. So…pick up that shovel!


This commentary is presented for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a comprehensive or detailed statement on any subject and no representations or warranties, express or implied, are made as to its accuracy, timeliness or completeness. Nothing in this commentary is intended to provide financial, legal, accounting or tax advice nor should it be relied upon. EDC nor the author is liable whatsoever for any loss or damage caused by, or resulting from, any use of or any inaccuracies, errors or omissions in the information provided.