Lenovo: How big data can solve humanitarian challenges

Lenovo has shared how big data holds the key for large businesses looking to use their influence as a force for good. Its new report, Data for Humanity, involved interviews with more than 600 executives working in organisations with revenues between $500mn and $5bn and shows many companies believe data sharing and analytics will play a fundamental role in addressing future global crises. 

Although profit margins remain the primary objective, meaningful Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) activities are becoming increasingly important strategic imperatives as boards seek to satisfy shareholders they are invested in sustainable enterprises for the long term. To help achieve this, most companies in the Lenovo report are planning to increase their investment in data storage and AI.

Ian Jeffs, UK & Ireland General Manager of the Infrastructure Solutions Group at Lenovo, reflects this sentiment. He says: “Companies don’t want to do these things for nothing in return, obviously – they want to grow their sales. You’ll see in the report, return on investment remains a top target, and these companies are looking to spend £3 million on average over the next 12 months. However, if you look at why they’re doing it, other elements they are focused on are much more non-profit orientated. Energy consumption and ESG targets are now very much part of it, and the kinds of areas they look at with datasets

“Nowadays, it’s about how you move data around the company, to then take advantage of it. If you’re having a consistent approach to data – how it looks, how it feels – and how it is managed across internal and external departments, or even with government, it is much easier to work collaboratively to share data in a certain way.

Jeffs says companies are investing in their data capabilities to help confront their own energy usage as the cost of energy soars, as well as to help drive the narrative when it comes to shaping themselves in bids for government tenders and reporting to the financial markets. “Using data to help drive outcomes around that is crucial to customers now,” he adds.

Real-world impact

Using big data to drive non-profit metrics isn’t simply a newer way to improve organisations’ public relations, it has a direct impact on the financial health of companies. On average, companies questioned by Lenovo anticipate their investment in data technologies and data-led initiatives increasing their revenues by 50 percent over the next five years, equating to an additional $1.5 billion per company over that period. However, when this finding is applied to the top 100 listed firms in each country surveyed, it translates to $8.5 trillion in additional revenues globally by 2027. 

The figures are particularly striking because the research was conducted during a period of economic uncertainty and widespread predictions of a global recession. 

The research paints a clear picture that investment in data capability is a vital tool for achieving financial resilience, while at the same time becoming key to being a force for good. More than 70 percent of companies interviewed are already using data to underpin a mix of ESG and financial goals. But according to Lenovo, there is scope to go even further.

“I think you’ve got to start with the facts of what happens if companies don’t start to use data properly,” says Jeffs. He points out at that, of the 600 companies quizzed for Lenovo’s report, the 15 percent of those that were classed as ‘data leaders’ were growing at 75% on average, in contrast to ‘data followers’ who were growing at 50%.

“So if you don’t start to take advantage of data, you’ve got less ability to then go impact ESG and many other things, because your business isn’t growing as fast as it could. Therefore, if you’ve got more data, then you have more power to help in those varied areas.

“Without taking data seriously, you will impede your ability on a pure business level firstly. A lot of our customers we talk to really want to start making a difference. If your business is growing faster thanks to your handling of data, you will be getting more investments naturally as a result, further increasing your capacity to take advantage.”

Potential challenges

Geopolitical tensions, collapsing supply chains and economic instability means many companies are facing challenges on a business level as well as a humanitarian one. Respondents to the Lenovo report identify the current energy crisis as their biggest threat over the next three years, with 71 percent expecting it to have a moderate to severe impact on their businesses. Global warming and income equality are the next biggest challenges companies believe they face (59 percent and 52 percent respectively). But they are also facing other macro trends such as lingering pandemic issues, talent shortages, rising operational costs, and a move towards more hybrid working.

But while companies are facing an extremely challenging mix of ongoing and future crosswinds, less than half of the 600 companies have near-term plans to address these issues. Fewer than 40 percent are taking steps in the next three years to address challenges from the energy crisis, for example. The figure falls to 33 percent for climate change and 18 percent for income equality.

“It is all about how we help our clients get to that position beyond these challenges as fast as they possibly can, in a safe and secure manner. Edge computing, which is all about how you move away from the data centre and closer to the end user, is becoming a big topic in the arenas we work in. Today, everybody talks about security, and with the data centre we all know how to do that. You can put your arms around it, you can lock it off, you will know how that works. But if you want to take advantage of data, you’ve got to put the computer closer and closer and closer to where that data is. Often that’s not going to be a data centre. 

“In the future it is going to be a retail store, it could be on the wall at the supermarket, it could be that you may not have a data centre in the small office that you’ve just opened up somewhere. But you might want to collect data, do something with it, analyse it, change the business outcome.

Jeffs says securing computing on the edge is vital to companies being able to seize the opportunities it presents, especially as they move to new connectivity technologies such as 5G to stitch their information flows together. 

Creating a brighter future

As datasets and analytical capabilities grow, senior executives believe a collaborative approach to data will be fundamental to improving global stability and security. The starting point is building data maturity internally, but doing so in a way that’s geared towards collaboration beyond the corporate walls.

Internally, investment in data can lead to significant upsides fast, from scientific discovery to product design.

Data is already helping researchers make strides in genomics, thanks to the development of solutions like GOAST (Genomics Optimization and Scalability Tool) 2. This innovative software can efficiently analyse large volumes of data at high speeds, allowing scientists to process the human genome 188 times faster than before. This has rapidly reduced the waiting times on results which in turn speeds up the rate of scientific discovery. Another example could be in product design – data-driven design leads to leaner turnaround and products that are more efficient and greener.

“It starts with sharing internally, but some companies want and need to go further. By having your data in a standardised format, then you can do that much easier. There might be sharing of data with government entities as part of fact-finding or ESG reporting, or there are companies that work in groups within their own industry to add further insights back to themselves. But to do all that, you’ve got to have a data set, you’ve got to manage your data properly, and you must collect data properly and consistently,” adds Jeffs.

“A framework must be built and started from an internal point of view, then thought about how that can be used externally. There’s lots of positive possibilities here. For example, we work with a transportation company which shares some of its data with the government to help with the flow of traffic, vehicle emissions and that type of thing. It is fraught with considerations, but as long as the framework makes sure you understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, it opens up a world of benefit.”


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