Get Ready for the Data Crush

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By AMA Staff

Christopher Surdak is Global Subject Matter Expert for Information Governance, eDiscovery, and Data Analytics for Hewlett Packard. He is an industry expert in collaboration, social media, information security, regulatory compliance, and Big Data, with 20 years of professional experience. He is the author of the new book Data Crush: How the Information Tidal Wave Is Driving New Business Opportunities (AMACOM 2014).

The following interview was excerpted and adapted from a recent Edgewise podcast Surdak participated in at AMA.

AMA: You’ve written a great new book entitled Data Crush: How the Information Tidal Wave Is Driving New Business Opportunities. What exactly is data crush, and what’s causing it?
Christopher Surdak: Data crush is something that probably everyone experiences every single day. You wake up, and practically before you open your eyes, you’re probably looking at your smartphone, digging through 100, 200 emails, going through text messages that you got overnight, and checking your Facebook. There is an absolute inundation of data coming at us, and that we’re also beaming out into the world, whether we recognize it or not.

What we’re creating in this world that is so awash with data about ourselves is an environment for us as individuals and for organizations. If you have any hope of surviving, you need to not only tap into that data, but you need to start putting it to work. That’s the crush, the sense of overwhelming speed, mass, and volume of this information, and the need to harness it.

AMA: If you were to distill this concept of data crush down to one word, what would it be?
I actually gave some thought to this a little while ago, and the one word that immediately comes to mind is disruption. I use that word very specifically because the availability of this information is going to fundamentally change some key aspects of our society that we have come to expect and rely upon. That sounds like a grandiose statement, but it really isn’t. These things are changing before our eyes, whether we realize it or not, making our institutions go through radical changes either right now or in the next five to six years, leading to tremendous disruption throughout our society and the economy.

AMA: Are there specific segments of the economy, or certain industries or social segments, that are more affected by this than others?
I meet with executives of Fortune 1,000 companies as well as state, local, and national governments on a weekly basis. What I find is that, no matter what niche of society we’re talking about, it’s affecting absolutely everyone. The analogy I give is how many people in America, let’s say, don’t buy something from Amazon on a fairly regular basis? If I’m talking to an oil and gas company or a hospital, or whatever, their view is, “Well, I don't compete with Amazon, so I’m different.” That may be true in terms of your business, but your customers interact with Amazon on a daily basis. They interact with Google on a daily basis and with all these different websites that are absolute cutting edge leaders in the world of data analytics. They generate an experience that their users now expect of everyone, regardless of what service or product they’re buying.

And so, it touches everyone. Even state and local governments, amazingly enough, are starting to feel the pressure to perform like an Amazon, and that's something that you wouldn’t normally expect.

AMA: How does the availability of all this data affect individuals? How will it affect our daily lives?
Everyone who is connected to the Internet, even a little bit, already senses this change in our daily lives. Certain aspects of our lives are becoming simpler. Some things are happening in an automated fashion without us really having to make decisions about them. It seems like we’re being exposed to much more convenience, much more availability of things that we want or need, and in many ways, it feels very good. It feels kind of neat when I get an electronic coupon when I’m standing outside of Starbucks. Hey, thanks. I didn’t know that I wanted a cup of coffee, but here I go.

The flip side of this, though, is that none of us is truly aware of how much of our data is going into the hands of who knows who. Our information is constantly being collected every second of every day, every single thing that we do. In my current role, I get to see the extent to which this is true, and it’s staggering. Our actual thoughts are being collected, analyzed, and used so that we can have our thoughts changed. If you look at the Snowdon case and the NSA and the exposure of just how much the government is tracking, there’s a growing sense of unease, that maybe people know me too well; maybe they’re getting a little too intimate.

I call this creeping up on us creepy. We’re getting closer and closer to the point where “You did something really cool that I enjoyed” turns into “You went too far and now you freaked me out.”

AMA: Should we as individuals be worried? Am I serving myself better by opting out, or should I just go with the flow?
What’s interesting—and I’m asked this question all the time—is the fact that, if you do choose to opt out, that becomes analytically and statistically interesting. If you don't opt out, you don't stand out. It’s when you opt out, when you say, “I’ve had too much” or “I’m creeped out” that you start changing your behavior, and we, the industry, see this, because businesses are doing data analytics. We’ll actually see that event where you change your behavior, and that becomes even more fascinating. So we actually will focus more upon your behavior from that point forward so we get a better understanding of how we creeped you out; how did we go too far; why did you change your behavior; how did you change your behavior because of it; and how do I get you back?

The analogy I use is, it’s like a herd of zebra on the Serengeti. How do you not become lion food? Stay in the middle of the pack. Don't stand out. Don't be different. It’s a really fine line if you are at the point where you’re a little bit creeped out or companies are being a little too intrusive in how they’re using your data. How do you protect yourself, so to speak, without standing out further for even deeper analysis of your psyche?

AMA: What’s the message in Data Crush for businesses today?
Data is now what capital used to be. Data is the new currency. And if you’re not using that currency—if you’re not what we call "monetizing your data"—someone else will, and that could be 10 guys sitting in a garage in India. In fact, it probably is 10 guys sitting in a garage in India. They’re taking your data. They’re monetizing it against you. And all of a sudden, you are disintermediated from your customer and you no longer own the most important asset that is across the entire value chain.

AMA: Let’s end on a positive note. What are the new types of business opportunities for companies in this age of the data crush?
The opportunities are nearly endless. It opens up entire new markets, entire new fields of value generation for customers, and entirely new sorts of relationships they can have with customers. And if they stay on the right side of the “creepiness” continuum, they can create customer delight. When you can actually anticipate your customers’ needs, deliver it before they knew that they wanted it, that’s going to be the new normal. And any company that doesn’t do this—doesn’t deliver predictively to my demands and anticipate my needs—they’re going to disappear and be irrelevant anyway. So in many ways, data crush is going to be a tremendously positive experience. But we need to be very careful and vigilant as well.

Learn how to leverage Big Data in your business with these AMA seminars:

Data Analysis Fundamentals: A Hands-on Workshop

Developing Your Analytical Skills: How to Research and Present Information

Learn more about Christopher Surdak’s book Data Crush: How the Information Tidal Wave Is Driving New Business Opportunities

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.