In the digital age, is data the heart and soul of who we are?

Data is the key to unlocking true insight
Data is the key to unlocking true insight

National security and the right to privacy have not always been the most comfortable of bedfellows – and never has this been made more apparent than in the wake of the recent North Korea Sony hack and the US Central Command's Twitter feed being taken over.

The last few months have highlighted the importance of cyber-security as 'hacktivism' has become less the preserve of online geeks and is now regularly making front page news. It seems utterly feasible to us now that warfare of the future will take place on the digital battleground… and without showing my age too much it brings to mind the 80s cult film WarGames.

In the cyber-age data is king, and the recent news that David Cameron pressed Barack Obama to force US internet giants such as Facebook and Twitter to help surveillance agencies prevent acts of physical and cyber-terrorism only serves to highlight the importance of understanding data.

Data knows us better than we know ourselves

Taking a step back from national security, recent events have made it clear to the man in the street that we live in a world exploding with data. As individuals we're waking up to the fact that our online data trails say more about us than we know ourselves. In ancient Greece the question of 'who we are' would have been one for Aristotle or Socrates to answer. Today it is to be understood by data scientists.

Our data profiles reveal a huge amount about ourselves as individuals, but also as groups, as societies, and ultimately, as nations. If you were to compare the typical Briton twenty years ago to today's modern Brit the difference would be staggering. Change is a gradual process, and it's commonly held that it can only be really understood with the gift of hindsight. This is wrong. Our changing personal preferences for things such as shopping, entertainment and, on a wider level, our own cultural identities are shaped, and understood, through data.

Ultimately it's increasingly important that companies understand how to analyse, and truly understand, the mass of data created each day. It is only through structured analysis that organisations can build accurate, real-time views of the world. Data is the key to unlocking true insight, and that key is about to be turned.

  • Richard Law is CEO of Chester-based GBGroup