Recently, a friend asked me how we’ll remember the 2020s. My bet? As the decade of data.

Already, data helps us hire. It guides our marketing and sales spending. We rely on it when we commute, and within a few years, data may drive our cars.

But look back a few decades, and you’ll see just how immature those trends are. In the 1970s, companies raced to develop the pocket calculator; by the mid-1980s, they’d leapt forward to the personal computer.

Technological change is exponential. Think about how much the personal computer changed our relationship with data compared to the calculator. Compared to then, today’s data landscape is shifting immeasurably faster.

Data Trends to Watch

Where is the world of data headed? From my standpoint, I see a few key trends:

1. Consumers are demanding ownership over their data.

For years, there’s been a wild-west culture around consumer data. Companies collect everything they can, hoping that they’ll be able to translate it into insights around how and why consumers buy.

Recently, some have started to question that model. Although Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation brought issues of data ownership to the public eye, the view that users should own their own data is just starting to hit critical mass. Startups like ATM.com are offering consumers ways to track and monetize the data they generate — a necessity if users are to truly own their own information.

2. Data is becoming the heart of corporate storytelling.

I hear you, marketers: Brands have been using data to identify audiences and shape content development for years. But only recently have companies actually started to tell audiences stories about that data.

If any one company kicked this off, it’s Zillow. Zillow’s Zestimates use hundreds of variables to predict a home’s sale price with incredible accuracy. But Zillow’s most interesting data analyses are around the stories it tells: Each Halloween, for example, Zillow shares a list of the cities where trick-or-treaters enjoy the most candy and the fewest risks. Expect to see a lot more brands follow its lead. 

3. Automation is simplifying data science.

Until recently, data science involved a lot of drudgery. Despite their technical training, data scientists actually spend more time gathering and cleaning data than anything else. Building models, conducting analyses, and visualizing data are actually a small part of the job.

Software is starting to change that. IBM’s Watson can now clean and refine data automatically. A startup I’ve invested in, ETLrobot, automates the extraction, transformation, and loading of data across many common business tools. The productization and automation of data services is rapidly ramping up. 

4. Data is starting to drive our schedules.

As someone who feels like there’s never enough time in a day, I’m stoked to be part of this trend. My company, Calendar, is using scheduling data to help users understand which types of meetings take up their time. Soon, it’ll show with whom that time is spent and suggest optimal meeting locations.

In the future, tools will get goal-specific. A busy professional who wants to run a marathon might receive suggestions on when to hit the gym. Expected wait times may be used to recommend the best times for scheduling a doctor appointment. 

5. Data skills are becoming a professional-development priority.

Companies beyond the tech giants are starting to encourage non-technical team members to learn data-management skills. Utility company Schneider Electric has set up an Energy University program, for example, that includes courses like “Analyzing Reliability in the Data Center.”

For every company to be a tech company, every worker must be data-literate. As executives realize that, expect them to roll out internal and external education programs. Lines between companies inside and outside of the tech sector will continue to blur. 

As 2020 unfolds, so will new and more democratic approaches to data. More people will use more data to inform more of their decisions.

That’s exactly what happened as computers evolved out of five-function number crunchers. And if the calculator-PC shift is any guide, the next decade will be nothing short of amazing.

Published on: Feb 16, 2020

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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PAUL WALKER

PAUL WALKER

Lonely traveler, l like to explore with my camera and my laptop every part of the earth.