From Smart Grids to Shopping - Data is Far Sexier Than You Think

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Why don’t more people find data sexy? For many, the word itself is paralyzing. I can still make myself yawn by remembering the words “answer the following questions using the data table below.”  For many of us, data entered our classrooms with a bad rap and it has never redeemed itself.

But that’s about to change (or has already in many parts of our lives). A piece today by Katherine Tweed on Green Tech Media’s greentechgrid captures one of the many reasons data is ready for prime time. “Power in Numbers: Where Is Data Getting Us?” takes a brief look at the smart grid space to tease out the promise for consumers, both commercial and residential. Sure, we’re not fully there yet, but the potential is unquestionable.

The potential has a lot to do with flipping. No, not flipping a light switch, but rather changing where control resides. Without data, most control exists in the hands of energy providers (absent any regulatory oversight, of course). With data, on the other hand, non-arbitrary “tailoring” is possible, which, Katherine notes, will eventually “open many doors.” Once businesses and people get past the privacy issue (another source of paralysis surrounding data) they’ll see that data can fuel a decision-making engine that goes far beyond just streamlining the meter reading/billing process. It’s a gateway to energy savings, better outage management and so much more.

In the smart grid space, as with other areas where data’s star has risen (e.g., marketing), the final hurdle will be making a stronger case for mutual benefit through education and transparency. In marketing, for example, Big Data lets smart brands deliver better, more relevant experiences to their customers in direct ways – discounts, specials, exclusive offers – and indirectly, such as cheaper prices because of leaner supply chains made possible by data-driven decision-making.

The same can be true for the energy production and consumption ecosystem. Big Data enables a utility to optimize the system in ways that directly and indirectly benefit consumers. But step one is making peace with the fact that data is your friend. When responsibly aggregated, analyzed and applied it can lead to lower prices, reduced carbon footprints and better overall experiences for consumers. But this is only possible if consumers consent to having data be their proxy for long-term and, even more exciting, real-time decision-making.

Yes, we need to assuage privacy fears. Yes, we need to ensure that data benefits are shared. Yes, we must overcome any lingering technological deficiencies. But if we want to start reaping the true benefits of a technology-enabled world, we had better “get” data. Because data is really the most precious byproduct of all this cool technology, making it far sexier than you think.