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For years, we’ve accepted that every company is becoming a data company. It’s not just Google, Amazon and Apple that have data coming out of their ears. With sensors now embedded in pretty much every device and product — from cars and appliances to thermostats — even the most unassuming enterprises have access to data that grows exponentially. But creating data and using it effectively are two very different things. 

We all know what happens when tech-native companies start using data to their advantage (think personalized ads, product recommendations or streamlined online checkout experiences), but legacy industries such as manufacturing, automotive and utilities are just starting to activate their data. The effects of these strategies are still in their infancy. But even so, all signs point to the impact of this data awakening as more meaningful than the data-driven changes made possible by Big Tech. 

Transforming old-school industries 

Take the automotive industry, for example. Each day, one autonomous car — with hundreds of sensors — may gather over 25 gigabytes of data. At scale, this amasses exabytes of data for the companies that manufacture them. These sensors have turned the proverbial garden hose into a fire hydrant, flooding organizations with data. If this volume of data is moved to the cloud and leveraged strategically, the impact could be massive. 

For instance, if an automotive manufacturer starts collecting and analyzing data from sensors in cars, it could share that data with insurance providers to fundamentally change the way insurance policies are created. The safer the driver, the lower the monthly payment. Beyond that, they could even partner with city and state governments to share insights on driving behavior, informing new roadways and detecting poor conditions — altering the look and feel of today’s cities. 

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Smart meter manufacturers are making similar moves to harness the full potential of their data. Smart meters, which monitor energy consumption, continuously gather data that is vital to meeting energy needs across communities. This data is crucial for utility companies: not only informing reliability and maintenance measures, as well as pricing structures, but also fueling green initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. Working hand-in-hand with utility companies, smart meter manufacturers could be an essential accelerator of a more sustainable future.

How do we succeed in using IoT data strategically?

To create a world in which legacy companies, en masse, use IoT data strategically, the cloud needs to be more accessible. While the benefits of the cloud are widely recognized, the challenges of getting data there at scale, quickly and securely, have made it wildly under-utilized.

Massive, unstructured IoT data workloads — typically stored at the edge or on-premise — require infrastructure that not only handles big data inflows, but directs traffic to ensure that data gets where it needs to be without disruption or downtime. This is no easy feat when it comes to data sets in the petabyte and exabyte range, but this is the essential challenge: prioritizing the real-time activation of data at scale. By building a foundation that optimizes the capture, migration, and usage of IoT data, these companies can unlock new business models and revenue streams that fundamentally alter their effects on the world around us. 

The rising data tide lifts all boats

As legacy companies start to embrace their IoT data, cloud service providers should take notice. Cloud adoption, long understood to be a priority among businesses looking to better understand their consumers, will become increasingly central to the transformation of traditional companies. The cloud and the services delivered around it will serve as a highway for manufacturers or utilities to move, activate, and monetize exabytes of data that are critical to businesses across industries. As these companies gradually make this transition from hardware producers to data aggregators, the very business models that shape our world will begin to evolve.

David Richards is the CEO and chairman of WANdisco.

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