The data age is over. Welcome to the age of insight

By: Ole Christian Valstad, 17. July 2021

If you’re a Stanley Kubrick fan, you will remember the iconic opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. A tribe of prehistoric apes make a cognitive and evolutionary leap when they discover that bones can be used as weapons to fight off another tribe. Howling with triumph, an ape throws its bone in the air which transforms into an orbital satellite millions of years in the future.

The bones were always there for the taking. It only required one ape to think different, pick up the tool, and put it use, before a chain of events began that led to the eventual human conquest of space.


Today, it is often said that we live in the age of data. We create and capture more of it than ever before. More data have been generated in the last two years than in the entirety of prior human history, with every connected human on the planet creating 1.7 megabytes of data per second.

But collecting data without having a way to turn it into actionable insight is like a hunter-gatherer collecting bones. They may have the biggest bone-pile in the tribe but it’s ultimately meaningless if they fail to put it to use. That’s why the organisation that turns data into insight, and insight into action, will achieve an evolutionary leap.

Examples of organisations that successfully turned data into actionable insight include streaming services that use big data to pick winning shows, recruiters who are using people data to make better hiring decisions, and (unsettlingly) politicians who tap the power of big data to help win elections.

Now is the time to move from the age of data to the age of insight.


When asked, nearly every business leader will say they want their business culture to become more data driven. The new normal may have accelerated this admission, however the challenges behind achieving this ideal is far from new. The term business intelligence has been around for 30 years now, but most organizations still have miles to go. This is because to become truly data driven, data is not enough; you must have the right tools, competency, and agility to turn data into actionable insight.

Even more important is to change the mindset of the decision makers. To become data driven we have to change the way organizations and humans have been making decisions for centuries. In many respects we have not improved much from our ancestors collecting bones in the wilderness, and even worse we often fall back on gut feelings and tribal knowledge to make important decisions. Hoarding responses to the Covid-19 outbreak illustrated this: when faced with uncertainty, humans turned to feelings rather than listening to the data. In business we face uncertainty every day. How can we make sure we extract the right information instead of succumbing to our psychology in such a chaotic world?


Insurers, banks, and financial institutions have every chance to be the frontrunners in this shift. These industries have long traditions of utilizing data in their business operations. Yet there is still an ocean of data left under-leveraged.

Here are three ways to turn data into insight.

  1. The first step in this journey is to make data accessible and understandable. Rather than concentrating the power in the hands of a few data scientists, organisations need to unlock data siloes, drive data fluency and make consistent data definitions. More time must be spent on understanding and using the data rather than using and learning the tools. The latter can be achieved with user-friendly tools, the first will be driven by cultural change

  2. The second step is to make the data visible. Data visualization is an artform that is often underestimated and undervalued. Bad data visualizations may lead to wrong data interpretation, which in turn might turn into catastrophic business decisions. Good data visualizations on the other hand will help you tell a story, reveal insights that might otherwise be missed, and increase productivity. Imagine going through millions of rows of tabular data manually when the right visualization will show you the relevant trends in the matter of seconds.

  3. The last step is to make the data dynamic. Data has never been static, so why should your reports and dashboards be? First and foremost, data needs to be real-time. The world is moving faster than ever before so decisions must be made on the latest information available. Data analysis is always useful, but real-time analysis is a game-changer. Secondly, data has to be interactive and allow the user to provide input. Decision-makers need agility to be able to review data in the most holistic way possible.

Data allows you to do analytics, but insight allows you to do business. Stop being a hunter-gatherer – transform your data into insight to drive the next evolutionary leap for your organisation.