By José Manuel Blanco

Originally Published by MIT Technology Review in Spanish 

Creating new products, building customer loyalty or improving brand image are some of the benefits that can transform companies with century-old products.

American Express and John Deere are companies with very different products. One is known for its credit cards and the other for its agricultural machinery. If they are similar in any way, it is in the way they have innovated to grow. Both have used the data to provide insight into their business and find new opportunities. 

On a daily basis, companies accumulate macro data that, used intelligently, transform the organization or allow them to know more about their users and products. Amazon is a well-known example: thanks to the purchase history of a customer, it can offer new related products. Another giant that uses the data well is Netflix, which suggests series and movies according to the views and produces content based on this information. "The great virtue of big data is the support when making decisions", explains the Project Leader of Systems and Integration Projects at Opinno, Javier Marcos, who adds: "A large accumulation of data allows for new decision making that focuses the offer on certain customers".

There is no point in having data if it is not structured to assist in business innovation. "The ultimate goal is for a person to be able to read it, interpret it, sift it and, many times, synthesize it," Marcos lists. He is currently working on an Opinno project to present and exploit big data in order to help the teams of a large banking institution make more efficient decisions. Previously, this engineer had worked at Repsol, where he handled the data for planned stops of oil refineries: "Bad planning leads to losses of many millions of euros".

Macrodata as a new product

American Express has transformed its business through macro data. Its Amex Offers service offers coupons to customers according to their previous purchases and location. In Spain, Dia supermarkets have increased their sales thanks to loyalty cards and personalized coupons.

Even big data can be another product to be integrated into the service portfolio. That's what John Deere, a century-old tractor company (founded in 1837), has done. Since 2012 it has been placing sensors on its machines and collecting data on field performance, to which it adds historical data on climate or soil. This information is transferred to an online platform and displayed in an application so that farmers know the best method or time to plough. A very different product to those who started their business in the 19th century.

With the big data, companies can also have sales forecasts, as French supermarkets using the Zéro-Gâchis application do: with the data on their customers' habits they can know whether it is better to make an offer on products about to expire or to send them to food banks. This service created by French entrepreneur Paul-Adrien Menez, who was recognized as one of the Innovators under 35 Europe 2019 by MIT Technology Review in Spanish, is based on an artificial intelligence that operates with data collected over years, such as the profit margin or the number of previous purchases of that product. Consumers save money and store workers operate faster by sorting products for one destination or another.

Productivity and sustainable development

The big data increases productivity and leaves a higher return on investment; companies that are aware of this will want to have customizable algorithms to help them in their business. In addition, the work of the data officer and the data scientist must be valued, as explained by specialists and members of the data departments of large companies during a meeting with Opinno


Those who follow this path are the so-called data-driven organizations, data-centric organizations that also seek to bring the whole team together around them. The director of Ideas in Opinno, Daniel Medina, and the director of the Barcelona office, Xavier Contijoch, ask for courage from the executives to see data as an asset with quality and to democratize and automate it. Only 37.8% of the executives claim to have created a data-driven organization and 90.9% say that people and processes are "the biggest barriers" to achieving this, according to the Big Data and AI Executive Survey 2020 report by US consulting firm NewVantage Partners. The study stresses that, for technology and Fortune 1000 companies, the adoption of big data is "an ongoing challenge". 

Data for sustainable development

Applying big data "helps companies to achieve sustainable development that can improve their growth and participation in society," explains Elena Rodríguez, head of Open Innovation and Innovation Ecosystems at Opinno. To do this, companies must "focus on specific data" and have a performance in figures that is visible in real time. The image they convey by becoming sustainable also helps to win new customers, keep workers and seek out new employees.

"Big data as a concept is not new", says the Project Leader of Systems and Integration Projects, Javier Marcos, who concludes: "Now, the great capacity to save massive data and its exploitation makes that dream possible to be implemented and exploited properly". All that remains is for many companies to realize the great opportunity that structuring their valuable information implies for their business and the needs of their customers.