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Key data trends for 2021 and beyond

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The pandemic has been instrumental in accelerating our economy's digitalization and our transition towards a digital marketplace. At the height of the UK pandemic in April, close to half of the employed population worked from home. Almost every single Briton – 96 percent – ordered a parcel online.

Businesses had to adapt. Fast. With continuity dependent on their ability to operate and transact virtually, digital transformation was expedited. Advancements previously scheduled to take years were condensed into a few months.

If businesses are to survive the immediate fallout from the pandemic and thrive in the future, they have to understand their new, post-Covid landscape. And this is where data is key. Data can help businesses identify and comprehend shifts in customer behavior, and better understand the rapidly evolving marketplace in which they operate.

But for this vision to materialize, business leaders need to get a decisive data strategy in place – and ensure all employees are on board with this. Experian's new report "The Data Debate: A forward view of key trends for 2021 and beyond" highlights four key areas that businesses should focus on in 2021 to create a pathway to success:

  • Consistent data standards
  • Developing better data skills
  • Improving the availability of data
  • Demonstrating responsible data use

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving your data-informed objectives. But as we start seeing consistent data standards, data skills built, people better motivated to share their data, as well as safeguards put in place to maintain their long-term confidence, businesses will be able to deploy data in new, innovative ways that gives them the best chance of succeeding in this new data-driven world.

Building greater collaboration

At a time of great uncertainty, what is clear is that we are not going back to the way we were all doing business before. Just a few decades ago, businesses would have slowly picked themselves up and gradually established the pandemic's long-term implications for their operating models. In 2021, data can fast-track this process by delivering the insights businesses need to adapt and succeed in their new landscape.

However, accessing these benefits will demand close collaboration between government, industry, and regulators. These parties will need to work together to develop a data regulation framework that encourages innovation and data sharing while building people's trust that their data is being used responsibly. It can also allow organizations to get better access to the next wave of data-enabled technologies and unlock data's full potential to drive business and economic growth.

Looking further ahead

Once organizations have established a strategy that allows them to use data more effectively, what do the near-term opportunities look like in 2021 and beyond?

The following are three of the future trends in data we believe are closest to fruition, which would significantly affect how all sectors can and should use data to the benefit of their organization, but more importantly, people and society.

Standardization will drive the growth of data marketplaces and data as a service (DaaS), and in doing so, improve data availability - Data marketplaces and exchanges provide single platforms to consolidate third-party data offerings, and it is a booming area. Since the data resides in the cloud, these marketplaces and exchanges provide centralized availability and access (to analytics and other data sets, for example) that create economies of scale and reduce third-party data costs. Gartner predicts that by 2022, 35% of large organizations will be either sellers or buyers of data via formal online data marketplaces, up from 25% in 2020.

The key to accelerating these marketplaces will be standardization. Whether the scale of this materializes will depend on establishing a fair and transparent methodology by defining a data governance principle that ecosystem partners can rely on.

It's sensible that marketplaces focus initially on non-personal data, which has a less inherent risk associated with it. The governance experience of how open data is handled and shared can be usefully drawn upon in this instance.

With ever-increasing regulation around the use of personal data, it remains to be seen whether marketplaces can be equipped to handle the risks, transparency, and due diligence that organizations need to assess before using these data types. Companies also need to ensure that data traded in this way still maintains its integrity. The "understanding" of the data and its value is not divorced from the data itself. If this can be achieved, then data marketplaces will significantly impact efforts to combat ongoing issues around the availability of data.

Responsible use of data at the heart of the operationalization of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) – Techniques such as ML, optimization and NLP have demonstrated their worth during the Covid-19 crisis. They provide vital insights and predictions about the spread of the virus and the effectiveness and impact of countermeasures. The way these technologies have been applied during the pandemic has demonstrated their potential on the world stage and will undoubtedly accelerate their adoption.

Yet these solutions are only as good as the data they're fed. Standardization will help ensure data is digestible, while advancements in synthetic data could help remove bias from datasets by ensuring they are adequately diverse. Along with this will come a focus on the data governance and transparency aspects of AI. There will be a move towards Responsible AI – which enables model transparency as an essential mechanism for protecting against poor decisions. It results in better human-machine collaboration and greater trust, driving adoption and alignment with the organizations’ decisions.

The return of the business as data steward – Legislation and regulation are better connecting individuals to their personal information. It is now up to organizations to use this information and turn it into value for their customers easily and safely. Suppose organizations can demonstrate that they are able to store and use information responsibly, in a way that is accessible, easy to share and simple to withdraw at any point. In that case, they will win people's trust. An opportunity then arises for these businesses to be a repository for people's data.

Jonathan Westley, Chief Data Officer, Experian

Jonathan Westley, Chief Data Officer, Experian.