Speed of data is key to competitive advantage

28 Jan 2013 by Scott Middleton

At a time when technology innovation moves faster than ever and consumers expect almost instant gratification, it is impossible to ignore the importance of time-based competition. As CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods Mitchell Modell observed, “The big never eat the small—the fast eat the slow” and it is a company’s ability to keep up that will determine their competitive edge.

The Boston Consulting Group has proposed that the “speed of data” is the new benchmark. With data flowing, being analysed and actioned almost instantaneously in some organisations this presents a significant challenge, especially considering the difficulty of aligning the speed and flexibility of data and artificial intelligence on the one hand with the relative sluggishness of people and organisations on the other. Not to mention the speed at which technology evolves which often makes old products and systems obsolete meaning many long-standing companies must re-evaluate how they do business on a regular basis.

Despite the challenges, by improving product development cycles and other processes, businesses can reap the rewards. They can increase the speed that new or improved products and services make it to market, respond more quickly to customer thus gaining their favour, enhance productivity and gain higher market share.

For example, the package delivery firm UPS, which invests $1 billion per year in IT, has adopted ORION (On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation), a sophisticated data system that streams sensor data from its thousands of delivery trucks. ORION allows employees to meet performance objectives by suggesting the most efficient routes to individual drivers.

This has allowed the company to eliminate 5.3million miles from its routes, reduce engine idling time by almost 10 million minutes, save 650,000 gallons of fuel and reduce its carbon emissions by more than 6,500 metric tons.

“We have sensors that capture information about the vehicle and the driver’s behaviors. We marry that information to delivery and acquisition information, and we can get a complete picture of how a driver is completing his work, day in and day out,” UPS vice president Juan Perez says. “That has incredible consequences for the way we manage the business across the board.”

By taking inspiration from companies like UPS and managing time the way one might manage costs, companies can reach (or come close to reaching) the speed of data. In doing so they acknowledge that speed is key to competitive advantage.

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