Data is the world’s new natural resource

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Author: Mike Smith, Managing Director, IBM New Zealand

Mike Smith with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Centre: Mike Smith with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Last  Friday I joined a BusinessNZ audience and had the privilege to introduce the Prime Minister as she made her first major speech of the year. Having attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, the challenges facing economies around the world were clearly top of mind.

Many of the global events now unfolding are potentially disruptive to businesses even a world away here in New Zealand. Whether we are talking climate, technology or demographic and social change –the pace and impact are increasing.

Be disrupted or disruption

Companies and countries do have a choice, to be disrupted or to do the disrupting. As business leaders, we are all making those choices now.

My senior management team and I often look at what our clients and competitors are doing in the face of disruption. Many are using data to better understand and deliver on the needs of their customers and communities. Data is the world’s new natural resource, unleashed by the maturation of artificial intelligence, and holds the potential to generate economic wealth, health and social wellbeing.

As with any natural resource, it must be looked after. Good data stewardship must be transparent and done for a purpose. This is important because trust is a key attribute of the digital economy and organisations will increasingly be measured on how data is collected, managed and analysed.

The right skills

The Prime Minister also highlighted the need to develop the right skills for New Zealand.  Successful organisations are investing in diversity, inclusion and skills to create a workforce who is resilient and able to adapt in the face of change.

This doesn’t happen without effort. Business must take a leadership position – creating the policies, role models and engaging with employees in ways that allow every individual to be the best they can be, including unlocking the potential in our young people.

I’ve seen the power of this among some of the millennials at IBM who define, design and deliver outcomes for our business in startling fashion.

The conversation around our table this morning reinforced to me that no matter where business leaders are located, we will increasingly be judged on whether we are handling data properly and our approach to developing our people and their skills.


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