Organisations and individuals alike are realising that data — their data — has value. While data literacy has a long way to go, this is an important first step.

Judicious use of analytics can have a significant positive impact on individuals’ lives: think of better energy management, increased financial security, and improved medical decisions, to name just a few. On a societal level it can help mitigate environmental degradation, improve allocation of tax revenues, and define better policies and treaties, increasing overall happiness, transparency, and welfare. Analytics can simplify complexity.

Agriculture is one area where analytics can add a lot of value. Photo by Marco Verch.

If you’re wondering why it doesn’t feel like these benefits are being realised, well, you’re not the only one. There are likely two factors at play here.

Firstly, we have difficulty at times recognising progress, instead amplifying the negative news while sidelining positive developments. If you’re interested in overcoming this bias I’d recommend Factfulness, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Annual Letters, and the New York Times’ Week in Good News.

The second factor is simpler: humans aren’t doing a great job yet at unlocking the promise of data, analytics, and AI. In certain areas we have seen an almost magical level of progress, e.g. machine translation and complex board games. However, in others we are only in our infancy, and many organisations are not realising the value they could, both due to technical and behavioural hurdles.

It can be difficult for organisations to change track. Photo by Tuncay Coskun.

The question therefore is this: how can we move from simply having data to using it to deliver positive impact, and reducing the time it takes us to do so?

I’m fortunate to have benefited greatly from my peers’ experiences, and I’m aiming to return the favour by sharing some of mine, starting this year. I’ll look to cover topics such as the data analytics ecosystem, hackathons & design thinking, practical AI applications, diversity & talent development, and organisational design. Suggestions or questions are always very welcome.

May I end by wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

— Ryan