Data Analytics & AI

The best data you’ve never seen

If you’re interested in data and analytics, customer centricity, platform businesses, the economy of data and/or smart cities, invest 25 minutes on a lesson from “the man who made data sing”.

The great Hans Rosling died earlier this month at only 68. The Swedish academic became an international star after his first TED talk, 11 years ago. You need to watch the video to understand his genius at presenting data in different ways, collating it, adding new variants, and showing how things change over time.

But one big takeaway is that long, long before anybody was talking about the economy of data – that is enabling new services by combining data from formerly discrete or siloed data sets and especially in the context of smart cities – Rosling was making a passionate case for making publicly funded data available to students, entrepreneurs and policy makers. This is because “to promote understanding of the world around you, you need to be able to present data in a way that is easy to understand” – that is visualize it.

Interestingly, in subsequent TED talks, he abandoned PowerPoint in favor of big, colored building bricks to explain big, complex issues…

Animating data and adding search

As he explains in this first talk, he started a non-profit venture, gapminder to improve the access to and understanding of public data for the common good. It created software which produces animations based on data, and developed a search function “so we can get the data out in the world”.

Rosling warns against the dangers of “average data”: to illustrate his point, he breaks data on Africa down into individual countries and then breaks down the span of wealth and health of the population within individual countries. The range is tremendous, from literally off-the-chart extreme poverty to up there with ‘developed’ countries.

Yet, as he says, with considerable exasperation, “We talk about solutions for Africa…everything in this world exists in Africa… to improve the world, [information]must be highly contextualized…we must be much more detailed.” Yes, we must – a big aim and challenge, for instance, in efforts to improve customer centricity.

So, in summary – use what you have, make sure you break it down into enough detail to avoid stupid, general assumptions, combine data and you’ll find all kinds of patterns if you present it visually, drop pre-conceived ideas and look at stuff in context. Bingo.

You might not be trying to solve issues like world hunger and poverty, which Rosling dedicated his life to, but whether you’re in a public or private organization, a multi-national or a startup, we all have much to learn from him. Thanks to Anand Sanwal – something of a data whizz himself in a different key – for the reminder.

TM Forum’s Customer Centricity & Data Analytics program is dedicated to helping its members succeed in the digital world – you can find ready-to-use tools, best practices and other guidance to accelerate your progress here. You can also contact Robert Walker, Senior Director of the program directly for more information or to get involved to address your particular business issues.


    About The Author

    Snr Director, Research & Media

    Annie Turner has been researching and writing about the communications industry since the 1980s, editing magazines dedicated to the subject including titles published by Thomson International and The Economist Group. She has contributed articles to many publications, including national and international newspapers such as the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune, and a multitude of business-to-business titles. She joined the TM Forum in 2010 and is responsible for overseeing the content of the Research and Publications portfolio.

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