code haloIs your social data a “digital exhaust,” a “data shadow,” or part of a “Code Halo?”

Pundits are enthusiastically predicting that 2014 will be the Year of the Internet of Things  or the Year of the Connected Home or even just the most interesting year in technology for a long time. Yet, the one thing overlooked is how organizations can make meaning from data generated by all of our personal activities, as well as all the code that surrounds all of the people and organizations we interact with. In fact, making meaning from what we call Code Halos has passed an important maturation point and is now creating a whole new ecosystem of interconnected technology enablers and business opportunities for enterprises that see Code Halos as the essence of their competitive advantage.

All of these exciting new trends have their roots in the data that surrounds each of us, the physical objects we use, the places we use them, the organizations we interact with, and the “collisions” between them — but it is in the tools we add to understand this data that the real value emerges.

Code Halos is the term that we at Cognizant have coined to describe this new capacity for meaning making. And I am willing to predict that you will want to know a lot more about Code Halos during the course of 2014. They are going to reshape the way we develop company strategy, product development plans, define how we engage with partners and customers, and even how companies organize and manage employees.

I think the first time I heard someone referring to the data that accompanies our activities online as a thing in itself it was around 1999 — it was Ann Winblad who, in reviewing a company I was proposing as an investment to her, talked about how we might capture the value of the data left behind the use of our service as opposed to making money on the use of the service itself. More recently some have taken up using the term data shadows to describe the stream of information we each leave behind us as we interact digitally.

While the existence of the accumulating data itself has been understood for over a decade, we haven’t always thought clearly about how to make meaning from the evolution of this data it, nor have we considered and its importance to our businesses. Yes everyone has “big data” on their radar screen and some have even recognized the importance of little data. But what, you may ask, is new about a “Code Halo” and why should we be taking stock of this concept today?

The crucial difference between the way that we have been thinking about data and the way we need to begin thinking about Code Halos is in our understanding of the relationship between the data and the things, places or people that generate the data, and in what happens when they interact (or “collide”). You can unlock a whole new way of thinking about your company, your products, and your customers when you make this simple switch:

Rather than thinking of data as something we “leave behind” instead conceptualize it as something that “we carry with us.”

There is a progression here in thinking about “exhaust,” to thinking about a “shadow,” to thinking about a Code Halo. The richness of Code Halo as a metaphor is that it evokes something that is ethereal but at the same time surrounds and enriches the person, organization, place or thing. A shadow is a mere two-2-dimensional representation of who we are. But a Halo is a part of us and even makes us more than we are just on the physical plane.

At this point you might be saying, “so what, why are the words so important -- why do I care about the difference between exhaust or a shadow or a halo?” In my experience, how we use language is a crucial part of how we formulate our perceptions and creatively interact with one another. If I tell you that I have a phone, you might think that I am going to be able to make a call. If I tell you that I have a smart phone, you’ll know that I can also access the Internet.

If you imagine that that your business has access to all this “exhaust” from social interactions you might, as Ann Winblad did in 1999, imagine how that exhaust can be processed into “digital oil” and reused in aggregate to generate insights or “fuel” other value-creation engines. Knowing in the case of my long ago company how certain advertising worked online with certain kinds of content might, for example, improves the way advertisers plan their ad campaigns (yes, someone else beat me in building that idea into a company…)

If you instead look at your customers as having “digital shadows” you might look at their social interactions as being pale representations of each of them, perhaps informing you to some degree on how you can improve your sales pitch or increase a customer’s satisfaction.

But stop for a moment and imagine the data as a Code Halo around your customer — the rich and living combination of transaction data, social data, data held by third parties and a set of analytics that brings a layer of meaning about how we are interacting with other people, organizations, places, and things. And then recognize that each of those organizations, places, and things also has a rich and living halo around them — or could have one if we were smart enough to be able to create, share and derive meaning from them.

If you could see all of these halos, and even enable them in your own products and services, how would you change what your company delivers to your market, how you do sales and provide service, and even how your employees work?

If you could see these Code Halos and understand what happens when they intersect with one another, what new opportunities could you imagine?

(image via shutterstock)