Data are the backbone of what Klaus Schwab—the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum—proclaimed to be the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This 21st‑century revolution is one of connectivity, advanced analytics, automation, and manufacturing technology.

While the road to this high‑tech revolution started long ago with the use of water and steam to power mechanized production, it was electricity’s ability to power mass production that delivered us from the first to the second industrial revolution.

Electronics and information systems necessary to automate production ushered in the third revolution. The data and our abilities to decipher and extract value from these seemingly random and disparate patterns of numbers and letters to create actionable intelligence is rapidly transforming the way business is conducted.

Data are everywhere and in everything. But on the grand scale of time, the collection, analysis, and application of digital data is relatively young.

Billy Bean and the Major League Baseball team Oakland Athletics, for example, demonstrated the importance of data‑driven decision making in the early 2000s by leveraging the power of data analytics to go from last place contender to chasing the championship in what has become known as Moneyball.

Some 20 years later, the power of data and digital continues to evolve, with the bright lights of Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, for example, shining down last month on the final football match of the FIFA World Cup; every movement made by Al Rihla was captured, stored, and analyzed.

But Al Rihla was not a player; it was the football created by Adidas and used in each of the more than 60 matches held throughout the tournament with an internal sensor for real‑time ball tracking capabilities. High‑speed cameras and antennas surrounding the football pitch provided additional support, feeding data into FIFA’s enhanced football intelligence service.

The data collected during the matches were analyzed on a variety of metrics like possession time, line breaks, pressure on the ball, and forced turnovers, and then shared with teams with the goal of improving the game and its players.

Winning the “beautiful game” is not as simple as it looks, as there’s more to kicking the ball into the opposing team’s net to score a goal as many times as possible in 90 minutes. These data offer an inside look into the processes of success or failure.

Simple, too, is the production of oil and gas when explained on paper: drill a hole into the ground, route what flows to the surface into a pipeline, and then get paid for the effort invested in delivering that resource to the market when the price is right.

It is more complicated than that, and data are playing an important role in delivering production increases and more.

Data powered the shale gale that swept across the US oil and gas industry. David Millwee, vice president of drilling performance for Patterson‑UTI Drilling, credits data for helping to deliver the yearly increases in the lateral footage drilled.

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