Data-driven possibilities: Connecting people, information, and ideas

When you’re the CEO of a global company you get a front row view into what makes some organisations so successful with data. I’m often humbled by the how much it’s not about technology. Data is about connecting all of your people, all of your information, and all of your ideas. This combination is what brings new possibilities to life.

I want to share with you stories that show the power of all three of these factors and how they are coming together to truly transform people’s lives, their health, and the environment.

A humanitarian medical supply chain

Data is being used in more agile ways than ever before, and this is helping to change the way the world works. Take, for example, an organisation called Direct Relief, which acts as the humanitarian supply chain for those affected by poverty or emergency situations by mobilising and shipping essential medical resources. The organisation receives donations of medical supplies, yet it’s hard for them to predict the amount of supplies they’ll receive and the times of the donations. They also cannot predict when and where these supplies will be needed, as world events can change in a day.

However, data analytics tools have equipped Direct Relief with the processes and systems to monitor every piece of inventory and see every recipient in need, in real time. They visually display this data on monitors posting the top items for shipment. A quick glance at the map and they can see where most goods are needed. Drill down and they can ask questions in the data to ensure expiration dates meet shipping time requirements. Just as importantly, partners can also proactively see the products that Direct Relief needs and can send new supplies in a proactive, timely manner. No delays, no waste.

African women microfinancing their futures

Another practical approach to linking people, data and ideas involves coalitions of women in Africa who participate in a village investor’s program. The women pool together their own money to create a fund for business opportunities involving everything from selling tomatoes to sewing clothing. This group is all about the trust between its members, who give small loans to each other to gain a livelihood. Through their work with an organisation called WeSeeHope, these groups are entering simple data on what they are selling each week, where demand is, what funds are available, and the resultant profits.

There are about 300 of these groups across Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania totalling almost 7,000 women, using data to empower each other. They learn what is selling best where, and uncover new opportunities – for example, spotting a region in which no one is selling fish. The groups had goals of gaining the equivalent of $3 a day, and through this data exchange they have averaged $5 to $7 each day, often doubling their expected income. It’s hard for us to imagine that the equivalent of the money we spend on coffee or a sandwich each day can have any impact. But for these women and their families it may be the difference that helps them to move out of dire poverty and build stronger lives.

Big data solutions for water scarcity

The Clinton Global Initiative recently announced a new multi-year Commitment to Action to address water availability and quality issues across the globe. In order to uncover new perspectives and insights, the organisation has joined forces with Circle of Blue, Qlik, Columbia Water Center, University of California Irvine and Pacific Institute, and Twitter, to bring disparate data sources. From this, they aim to learn about the groundwater supplies and related water flows in California, the American West and eventually the world.

By uniting data policy makers, corporations, and the public, people will be able to access and visualise scientific and technical information in an approachable way. If this is truly about ideas, let’s welcome the ideas of involved citizens closest to the issues, who may just have thought about a factor that scientists and academics have not considered.

What made every single one of these stories possible? Being able to see the whole story in their data.

Data can help to change the world, but the important thing is to connect people, data, and ideas to unlock new possibilities. All of the examples referenced started with ideas where people and data created impactful solutions. Ideas of any proportion can come to life when connected with people and data. Some ideas are very big, some may start small and grow, but in either case the possibilities seem endless.

Lars Björk, CEO, Qlik