Data and information are an organization’s crown jewels, and are therefore the subject of the most intensive security efforts. I've talked about the yawning gaps in data security before on this site, and there's been no end of concern about the sorry state of cybersecurity across many of our interconnected systems.

However, there is a counter-trend to all this concern. Some industry observers believe that it would be in companies' best interest to be more open with their data, particularly that collected from customers.  And guess what?  The insurance industry is seen as a prime example of how to handle data-sharing the right way. Namely, collecting data on policyholders' driving habits in order to offer discounts for safe driving behaviors is held up in a recent Influx Insights post. 

Yes, data sharing between companies and customers (and partners as well) is more about transparency, it's about building a brand and becoming more competitive in markets. In this age of Big Data, there are terabytes and terabytes of information on transactions, products, and customers. Is it worthwhile to keep all this information locked away somewhere, piling up in a dark room, or are there ways to put this data to work?  The problem is, much of this data only gets viewed once – usually during or shortly after it is created – and never touched again. Transaction data may be looked at once as part of sales and financial reporting, and perhaps stored in a data warehouse. Then it is stored away, with all the related costs of storage, security and maintenance that go with it.

Many companies are starting to do a good job of data integration with the flows coming in from various systems and touchpoints. Some of the data is surfacing in analytics, being applied against customer and transaction history to help devise strategies for targeted marketing, risk analysis or operational efficiency. But this is only a small fraction of all the information being amassed, and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on ways this mountain of information can be leveraged.

Companies need to figure out ways to better reuse and take advantage of the treasure troves of data they are accumulating. Often, this data is unique and reflects real-world trends. There are a myriad of ways this data can be reused within your enterprise. And, if your enterprise can’t use the data, there may be other enterprises willing to pay for such information (masked or de-identified of course). In an article published in MIT's Sloan Management Review a couple of years back, Hongwei Zhu and Stuart E. Madnick proposed a number of innovative ways data can be “reused” or repackaged.

For example, data can be combined into unique data sets, Zhu and Madnick say. “A company that offers open access to certain data also probably has certain other ‘private’ data that make the combined data set unique,” they write. Or, integrated data sets brought in from various sources can help produce new ways of looking at business problems and opportunities. “Data reuse not only provides the convenience of easy access to otherwise disparate information, but the integrated data can also provide insights that are otherwise invisible,” the authors note.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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