Not all data collection is bad.

In the wake of recent scandals relating to the harvesting and use of data, “data collection” is starting to become a dirty phrase, but it needn’t be - By Yerkin Tatishev

Facebook’s share value has been on a rollercoaster ride in recent months, with the fallout from a series of data-related scandals taking its toll. Recently the price of the company’s stock has recovered, but damage has been done to the wider perception of corporate use of data. Despite data collection seemingly becoming a ‘dirty phrase’, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Condemning data collection ignores the growing number of sectors where this advance is bringing unexpected benefits, rather than harm.

Agriculture offers the perfect example of how improved data collection is helping growers, herders and consumers. Last month, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner described the emergence of new agricultural technologies as a ‘win-win situation’. I couldn’t agree more and would extend the definition to the power of data collection.

The data-driven micromanagement of fields, satellite monitoring of crops and deployment of drones to survey land and livestock exemplify how farming is already benefitting from data collection. When the farming industry benefits, everyone in the world benefits. Data-driven farming and tailoring crop management are being adopted in previously unimagined ways - managers are now able to use smartphones, tablets, sensors and satellites to understand agricultural performance in astonishing detail.

At Kusto Group, we decided to deploy these tools to our projects in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, in an effort to bring best in class technology to the market. Today, we analyse machinery movement data, yields, and the speed of growth. However, this is only the beginning. We are also developing the ability to transmit precise data from the field to headquarters in a matter of minutes. As a result, we can provide a higher quality product whilst staying competitive with larger, more established agricultural operations.

This way of operating would have been pure fantasy not long ago, confined to science fiction. Now it is becoming an essential reality. Agriculture is setting a standard for how other sectors not only could but should be operating. Instead of crops, it’ll be investments. Instead of soil PH, it’ll be resources. I would argue that not only are these developments overwhelmingly positive, but they offer a glimpse of how data-collection can be applied to the benefit of communities, businesses and consumers far beyond agriculture.

Previously businesses have not been able to get a clear picture of what is happening throughout their operations. Those which fail to harness the full potential of new technology-enabled accurate data and equip their workforces accordingly are guaranteed to fall behind. I learned the importance of constantly adapting and implementing new techniques and approaches when turning around ailing mining industries in my native Kazakhstan. The origins of Kusto’s data-driven approach lie here in the understanding that only by trialling the new can we stay competitive.

Industries such as agriculture are rapidly requiring less and less human involvement. This hotly debated phenomenon is affecting all markets and walks of life. Forward thinking companies are focusing their efforts on retraining their existing workforce to reflect the need for more technical skills in an increasingly high-tech era. In Ukraine, Kusto uses specially equipped classrooms at the headquarters of agricultural machinery giant John Deere, to ensure our workforce has the knowledge and skills they need in the field (both literally and metaphorically). Knowing we have a workforce equipped for the task enables us to be braver and bolder in adopting a more data-driven, high-tech approach.

Data-driven decision-making opens-up a world of previously unattainable possibilities. Those captains of industry that fail to recognise the need to spend time, money and resources on both the technology and the requisite skills are already starting to fall behind. However, to fully realise the awesome potential of tech-driven data, we must reclaim the positive connotations of data harvesting.

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Yerkin Tatishev

Yerkin Tatishev

Yerkin Tatishev is the founder and chairman of Kusto Group. He started out as an entrepreneur in single industry towns in Kazakhstan, turning around ailing mining and manufacturing enterprises in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, Kusto Group operates across five sectors, including agri-business and real estate, working in 10 countries across the globe, employing more than 8,000 staff. In addition to his business interests, Tatishev established the Yerzhan Tatishev Foundation in 2005, named after his later brother, which supports Kazakhstan’s youth to develop their skills in business, finance and industry.

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