It strikes me that the unofficial, but omnipresent theme of this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the data revolution. In a very short time, we have shifted from developing business activities and focusing on as competitive approach as possible toward focusing on getting these activities to generate as much data as possible.
That said, depending on the sector you operate in, the MWC means different things to different people. For those in infrastructure, everything from Hall One to Eight is about cloud computing, data center integration, or 5G. The same probably applies to those in security. But really seeing The Next Element, the official theme of the event, requires distance. And my impression is that this means reinterpreting all business activities through the prism of data: the fuel and the organizing vision that will drive business in the future.
The first major announcement at the MWC this past week was undoubtedly Telefonica’s Aura, its so called Fourth Platform, reorienting the company toward the management of user data: digital transformation is absolutely necessary to avoid its commoditization, and that transformation requires paying serious attention to data, which for Telefonica means turning its activity into a set of APIs that not only them, but also third parties can use, with some rules that allows Telefonica to improve its value proposition. Obviously the idea is to improve their services and to retain its customers… but thanks to the conscious generation and exploitation of data. This means building a business around the data users create and finding a way to use it within certain rules and guarantees, in a way that allows them to be perceived in a positive, not sinister manner.
But in reality, it doesn’t matter who you are: if you’re Telefonica, fine, things couldn’t be more clear: the company sees data as the perfect way to avoid commoditization and to transition from being a telecom company to becoming a technology company. If you’re a car maker – four years ago Ford was the only manufacturer at MWC, this year there are many more – the idea is to generate data about your drivers’ experience through the connected vehicle, which is simply a new way to try to improve your product and service thanks to the data generated by a vehicle that stores and transmits everything we do with it. From pioneering Tesla, which in 2013 decided to provide four years’ worth of total connectivity included in the price of its vehicles through an agreement with AT&T, until this week, when Chevrolet announced the same for $20 a month. In short, a car is no longer a vehicle with which to move from one point to another, but is instead a huge computer on wheels, the ultimate mobile technology, and therefore logically has a place at an event like the MWC.
Everything about the connected car points to the same thing: constant generation of data to be able to turn the driver experience into something infinitely more versatile: to go from selling a product to offering a complete solution. Eventually, drivers will no longer even drive, and probably won’t even own the vehicle, which instead will become a platform in which we log in, along the lines of Google’s Chromebook: any car becomes “my car” with my presets on the radio, seat position, driving parameters or my usual GPS locations all set as soon as I get in. Factors such as maintenance or insurance will be included into the price. And once again, all fed by constant generation of data.
The data revolution and digital transformation comes into sharp relief as you wander through the MWC and return exhausted to your hotel to realize that practically everything you have seen is all linked by a common theme. The coming change for businesses in the next few years will be increased focus on the generation and exploitation of data, its constant analysis through all types of machine learning techniques, along with a major rethink about the competitive advantages of companies, regardless of their activity, based on their use of data.
Everything I have been teaching for so long now: the digital transformation that includes customer relations, internal data flows and rethinking business models with a platform mentality is now a common theme in all industries. Those who do not see it will simply not be able to remain competitive.
So if you haven’t started completely thinking about how to reinterpret your business – whatever it is – around data…start now, before it’s too late.