Evolving From Information to Insight

Organizations are increasingly able to gather and process information from a variety of new sources. But competitive advantage will still belong to those who know how to use it.

Business leaders often believe their organizations are swamped with business process information collected through their own enterprise systems or those of their business partners, most of which is trapped in data warehouses. They seek to harness it and use it to inform better decision making, financial management and customer service.1 What they do not realize is that, even if they were able to meet this goal, they would merely have caught up with yesterday. The information frontier is moving forward quickly, opening up incredibly rich streams of new information sources and formats and dramatically increasing the technical ability to manage them. Forward-looking companies must stay ahead of that curve.

Consider an everyday example. More than 30 million packages are delivered globally by courier services every business day. All too often, the recipient isn’t there to receive the package when it arrives, which is frustrating for him, the sender and the courier. The problem is that packages are directed to a physical location, which is static, but the intended recipient is mobile. Yet with information and technology available today, the delivery “address” could be a person who could be found in real time, anywhere.

How would that work? Imagine that a delivery company had access to your electronic appointments calendar and could locate you using the Global Positioning System via your vehicle or cell phone — with your permission, of course. The company could notify you of an imminent delivery and ask if a courier should bring your package directly to you right away, leave it at another location, or reschedule delivery for a more convenient time and place. Depending on your choice, you might “sign” for the package, by verifying your identity through a smart card or a thumbprint. This kind of delivery would be a highly personalized service, made possible by combining several different types of information not commonly or economically available until recently.

So far none of the major package delivery services has adopted usercentric addressing. But the technical capabilities do exist.2 In the near future, leaders in any industry will be able to draw on not only enterprise data but also information from a wealth of new sources that will create a richer, real-time picture of the world.

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References

1. In 2002, Accenture interviewed 163 senior executives from large organizations representing a wide range of industries worldwide. The survey revealed that top organizations were still struggling to achieve full value from enterprise solutions. Only 69% had installed enterprise solutions throughout their entire organization or in most functions and business units. The key benefits that they sought from enterprise data were better management decision making, improved fiscal management and improved customer service and retention. For more on this survey, see T.H. Davenport, J.G. Harris and S. Cantrell, “The Return of Enterprise Solutions: The Director’s Cut,” Accenture Institute for Strategic Change, October 14, 2002.

2. Prototype systems have been developed in Accenture Technology Labs. See www.accenture.com/accenturetechlabs.

3. D. Vesset, H.D. Morris and R. Blumstein, “Worldwide Business Analytics Software Forecast and Analysis, 2003–2007,” IDC doc. #30076, IDC, Framingham, Massachusetts, September 2003.

4. Wal-Mart will require its suppliers to use RFID tagging on all cases and pallets by the end of 2006; European retailer Tesco Plc expects all its suppliers to tag cases after 2006. The U.S. Department of Defense, aiming for “factory to foxhole” tracking, is requiring all suppliers to begin to use RFID tagging on the smallest possible piece, part, case or pallet by January 2005.

5. Essentially all automobile manufacturers have plans to offer location services. Enhanced 911 service is mandated for all cell phones by the end of 2005, although schedules have been slipping.

6. The Focal Point Group, “What Is M2M? A Primer on M2M Technologies, Companies, and Adoption,” Exhibit F, 2003, 4. See www.thefpgroup.com.

7. Newer biometric technologies are providing richer data. The estimated sizes of common biometric templates are hand scan, 9 bytes; retinal scan, 96 bytes; finger scan, 250 bytes; iris scan, 512 bytes; facial scan, 1,300 bytes; signature scan, 1,500 bytes; and voice scan, 2,000 to 10,000 bytes. See International Biometric Group, “How Large Are Biometric Templates?” 2002, www.biometricgroup.com.

8. P. Lyman and H.R. Varian, “How Much Information,” Table 1.13: “The Size of the Internet in Terabytes,” 2003. See www.sims.berkeley.edu/research.

9. D. Legard, “Study: Eight Years On, U.S. E-Commerce to Hit $100B,” Feb. 26, 2004, IDG News Service, www.ITWorld.com.

10. For eBay’s sales data, see http://developer.ebay.com/DevProgram/membership/data.asp. For an example of how a company uses such data, see www.andale.com.

11. At the time of this writing, the Earth Simulator Center in Japan is the world’s fastest computer. The Los Alamos ASC supercomputer Q, in Los Alamos, New Mexico, is the second-fastest computer, launched in May 2002, with a capability of 13.88 teraflops and at a cost of $215 million. In 2003, Virginia Tech created the then third-fastest computer in the world, called System X, by linking 1100 dual-processor Power Mac G5s, giving it about 10 teraflops at a cost of $5.2 million. Having been ranked for speed, the system was disassembled and replaced with Apple’s rack-base servers, which consume less space and power.

12. D. Reinsel, “Worldwide Hard Disk Drive 2004–2008 Forecast and Analysis: Better Times Upon the Industry — Is It Sustainable?” Table 90, IDC doc. #31208, May 2004.

13. For a fuller exploration of the business possibilities enabled by advanced sensor technology, see “Reality Online: The Business Impact of a Virtual World,” Outlook Special Edition, September 2002, www.accenture.com. (“Outlook” is an Accenture publication.)

14. An increasing percentage of Web pages are being coded in XML, which provides tagging possibilities and makes the data, technically speaking, semistructured.

15. Accenture Technology Labs, “Sentiment Monitoring Services,” case study, www.accenture.com.

16. Interviews by Accenture researchers with AMSKAN executives and with engineers from a subcontractor component supplier. For additional information, see www.AMSKAN.com.

17. Accenture Technology Labs, “Knowledge Discovery Tool: Innovations in Pharmaceuticals Research,” www.accenture.com.

18. Accenture Technology Labs, “Sentiment Monitoring Services,” case study, www.accenture.com.

19. In November 2003, Accenture surveyed 343 U.S. consumers and 223 U.S. business persons (primarily privacy officers, marketing executives or customer relationship management executives). Among consumer respondents, 97% are concerned about privacy issues, especially identity theft and its financial consequences, and 51% say that fear of inadequate protection of their personal data has compelled them to “reject or cancel” doing business with a company.

20. Interview with Leslie-Ann Scott, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.

21. T.H. Davenport, J.G. Harris, D.W. DeLong and A.L. Jacobson, “Data to Knowledge to Results: Building An Analytic Capability,” working paper, Accenture Institute for Strategic Change, June 2000, p. 22, www.accenture.com.

22. For a comprehensive review of the various perspectives on creativity and approaches to developing an innovative corporate culture, along with case examples, see L.K. Gundry, J.R. Kickul and C.W. Prather, “Building the Creative Organization,” Organizational Dynamics, 22, no. 4 (spring 1994): 22–37.

23. John Kao, “Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity” (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 7.

24. The importance of involving everyone possible — not only all employees but also customers, suppliers and other players in the extended business system — is well documented. See, for example, R.B. Tucker, “Seven Strategies for Generating Ideas,” Futurist (March–April 2003): 20–25; M. Haeberle, “Fostering Innovation,” Chain Store Age (November 2002): 76; and J.S. Brown, “Research That Reinvents the Corporation,” Harvard Business Review 68 (January–February 1990): 102.

25. G. Hamel, “Innovation’s New Math,” Fortune, July 9, 2001, 130–132; and G. Hamel, “Leading the Revolution” (New York: Plume Books, 2002), 304. In his book, Hamel famously compares ideas to sperm, with a reminder that no one bemoans lost sperm when the end result is one healthy baby.

26. From an Accenture business case analysis and field test of fleet management telematics performed for a large Class 8 truck manufacturer.

27. R. McEver, “Real-Time Pricing,” Energy Markets 8, no. 2 (2002).

Acknowledgments

We would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of Scott Rose, managing director of Accenture Technology Labs.