Data’s Higher Calling

If I asked you to tell me about the benefits of Big Data, what would you say?

I’m guessing your answer would run along the lines of deeper business insights, an empowered sales team and smarter decisions. All of which are true, no doubt. But data’s playing another role these days that doesn’t get enough credit. And that role is just as important as the business rewards data brings.

That would be data’s transformative power in revolutionizing the global development community. All over the world, a variety of organizations, policy makers and leaders are tapping into shared data to accelerate advances in assistance and development. In fact, this movement has such bold possibilities that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has formed a task force to explore the connection between data sharing and collaboration and sustainable global development.

Consider it this way. While the Internet has created the impression of an interconnected world, the reality is that different nations, cultures and public and private organizations have a vast range of information at their fingertips that frequently stays behind closed doors. When it comes to understanding present and future human needs, that represents a massive missed opportunity. If practitioners and researchers have access to the breadth of information that’s out there, rather than operating in their own silos, they can create more efficient and innovative strategies that can help larger numbers of people.

That’s not just a theory. New foundations are practicing data-based collaboration right now. One of them is Project 8, which was launched by the United Nations Foundation and The Demand Institute, and is now supported by Salesforce and Accenture. Project 8’s goal: building a centralized digital resource where people can exchange data on human needs, analyze the evolution of human demand and anticipate the future of that demand. By sharing those insights, the hope is that organizations the world over can collectively strengthen their ability to plan out global development strategies and empower both individuals and communities to better meet the needs of billions of people.

What does this look like in practice? One example would be Wave Analytics, a solution driven by Salesforce that collects and contextualizes data previously trapped in PDF tables, internal documents and statistical charts. By sharing that data through the cloud, the solution makes the information accessible to people across the globe who normally would never see it. Valuable insights and useful statistics are extricated from silos and shared across the world, with both corporate and public sector leaders.

But it’s not just a matter of who is getting access. The benefits extend to where people enjoy access as well.

In an earlier age, users would have had to log in through a specific system from an office desktop – even if that meant a delay in getting the data. But today? Users can access these insights from their smartphones and tablets, as they’re out in the field or traveling on business. By obtaining the data they need when and where they need it, these users are empowered to make smarter decisions using up-to-the-minute information.

As for what kind of information, that can include a variety of data sets. Imagine a project centering on the future of nourishment and sustainability. To develop plausible strategies, teams could benefit from data like hunger statistics, agricultural projections, global food demand, population projections and climate change. By globally disseminating information to millions, these data tools amplify teams’ ability to understand and solve the ever-shifting food challenges faced across the globe.

And that’s just one example of a data revolution that is only just beginning. Project leaders will continue to collect data to help researchers, users and leaders collaborate on creating a global resource that benefits everyone. Both individuals and organizations are invited to get involved, whether they want to simply use analytics or contribute data to assist the global development community.

So yes, data does more than just aid business in driving revenue. The world of Big Data is now irrevocably connected to a higher purpose, one with the power to transform human lives.