By Drew Ianni
March 9, 2021

How should companies think about the role of data while building brands and reaching out to consumers? At the recent CDX Accelerate conference two master strategists joined to explore the question. Sunil Karkera VP & Global Managing Director of the strategic design agency Designit – a unit of Wipro – joined Matt Quint, director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School.

Designit’s Karkera teed-up the discussion by saying “data doesn’t depend on information. Information depends on data. So data becomes essential – I consider it the fifth element after earth, water, wind and fire.”

The Three Types of Data

Karkera sees data as falling into three core categories – all of which can create valuable and actionable insights:

  1. Decision-Making Data: Karkera described this as “pre-computed facts, transactions, and data that’s coming from different devices, such as a point-of-sale or Google analytics.”
  2. Predictive Data: Predictive data is probabilistic – it represents a series of probabilities and has a magnitude and a vector. And, according to Karkera, “this is where all the innovation is actually happening, as it enables us to more accurately predict how to get the probabilities right.”
  3. Descriptive Data: For all the innovation around predictive data, Karkera said “to get there, you need another set of data, which is descriptive data. Descriptive data is data about data. To get to that predictive intelligence, an assertive design method to create the predictive data must be employed.”

The Three States of Data

Karkera also spoke about what he calls the three “states” of data. “One is data at rest” he explained, “which is like rows in a table like a database, right? It’s files in a file system. Second, there is data-in-motion such as emails, Slack messages and IoT sensor data – where data is moving and creating value. And, third, there is data-in-use, such as working memory of a CPU or your security credential, username and passwords that you use for user journeys and customer personalization.”

“Data itself is kind of irrelevant,” said Columbia’s Quint. “It isn’t interested in giving you insights. The key is what questions are you asking the data to answer? And how are you asking the right questions of the data and thinking about designing those questions for good outcomes.”

Data In The Age of Consent

As privacy and related laws around data and permission remain top-of-mind for all marketers, the conversation turned to data in this age of consent. Consent is indispensable, a foundational requirement if a company wants to take regular advantage of any customer’s information. – “Do you have permission to use it?” Karkera asked. “And how often? And what kind of permission is also data? It’s strategic data and it drives your privacy and ethics of your user contract.” He believes consent data should be considered high-value, first-party data. “It’s not an accessory to data. It’s important. It’s elevated.”

Data Design Must Have a Front Row Seat

Data may change status and states very quickly and frequently, or can remain in a single state throughout its lifecycle. But the value of data can change. Quint adds that, “data is in constant flow. Some of it may be relatively steady state, but a lot of it is moving all the time. So one of the key things with all this is, how are you regulating that? And how are you managing it? And how are you understanding when you may have corruption into the data”. And, according to Karkera, “that value impacts the brands and customer experience substantially. So it’s always not about the data, it’s about enriching its value to create superior experiences.”

When asked how data can impact strategic design, Karkera added, “we also consider data to be a pillar of strategic design. In the creative process, the creation of ideas and products should be designed with the state of data in mind. Designers should know about data-at-rest, in-motion and in-use. Data design must have a front row seat.”

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