Not all data that's valuable is internal and proprietary. New initiatives by governments including the United States and Mexico are opening the spigots of readily usable public data.
New sources of open data could help unlock $3 trillion to $5 trillion in economic value annually across several sectors including retail, on a global level, according to new research from the McKinsey Global Institute, the McKinsey Center for Government, and McKinsey's Business Technology Office.
Corporate information, too, is becoming more "liquid," moving across the economy as companies begin sharing data with their business partners and, sometimes, consumers. Also surging is information from data aggregators, which are assembling, rendering anonymous, and selling a wide range of data flows. Then add huge volumes of data from social-media interactions, available from providers of digital platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
In the consumer-products sector, sharing data among retailers and manufacturers in limited circumstances—avoiding exchanges with direct competitors, for example—could lead to marketing approaches not possible with proprietary data alone. Take Nectar, a UK-based program for loyalty cards, which can be used at Sainsbury's for groceries, BP stations for gasoline, and Hertz for car rentals.
Sharing aggregated data allows the three companies to gain a broader, more complete perspective on consumer behavior, while safeguarding their competitive positions.
These new sources of open data represent an expanding trove of largely unexploited value. One everyday illustration of open data at work is a smartphone app that uses real-time data (provided by transit authorities) to tell commuters when the next bus or train will arrive. Using open or pooled data from many sources—all the businesses in a particular sector, for example—often combined with proprietary big data, can help companies develop insights they could not have uncovered with internal data alone.
Demographic data, financial transactions, health-care benchmarks, and real-time location data are among the myriad new information sources a company can exploit to create novel products and services and to make its operations more effective and efficient.
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