On the first day of differential equations class at the University of Illinois in 1983, our professor grabbed a handful of chalk, turned his back on the class, and for the next forty minutes filled every chalk board with some massive proof. (We all guessed wrong: It was the proof to the “four color map problem,” considered to be unsolvable until he solved it.) From that moment, I decided I was more interested in the business aspects of computing, not the engineering ones. But the university had no business-computing major at the time, so I designed one. However, my proposal was rejected: “Why would anyone want to use computers for business?” one committee member argued. Eventually, it got approved.
Since then, I have been more fascinated by the possibilities of information–as a functional representation of almost anything in the world, as the fuel of the digital economy, and as an actual business asset. In the ‘80s I was the data administrator for a 400-person Andersen Consulting megaproject, in the ‘90s my colleagues and I at Prism Solutions helped pioneer the concept of the data warehouse, then with the industry research and advisory firm META Group (now Gartner) I helped define the concept of Big Data by identifying its three key challenges and opportunities: the “Three Vs” of volume, velocity and variety.
However, when the 9/11 aftermath revealed that neither the insurance industry, the accounting profession nor the courts considered data lost during the terrorist attacks to be legal property or even a recognized business asset, I was on a mission. How can this thing that gives the Information Age its name, be such a second-class resource?! Information meets the formal criteria of an asset. So perhaps it should be measured like one. And managed like one. And monetized like one. This has been the focus of my research the past decade or so: the economics of information, or “infonomics”, resulting in my latest book, Infonomics.
To date, I’m pleased that infonomics concepts have helped global companies better prioritize and fund their IT and business efforts, identify millions of dollars of information waste, and innovate with information to add hundreds of millions of dollars in market value. As well, formal approaches to monetize, manage and measure information as an actual asset, have emboldened data science, AI, and digital business initiatives, improved data governance, and compliance, and even given equity analysts and advisors a new way to value businesses.
And in a happy ironic twist, that esteemed university which once rejected the idea of business computing, is the first in the world to offer a course in Infonomics to its MBA and masters of accounting students.
Meet Doug Laney: Data and Analytics Strategist, Industry Thought Leader, Author, and the Father of Infonomics.