A few weeks ago I watched a fascinating episode of Horizon that looked at how the data being produced by our own bodies is being collected, collated and analysed in the most incredible ways to help not only monitor and improve our health – but also to predict problems before they happen.

In addition to the technology being deployed by doctors and hospitals it seems more and more people are also buying into the idea of the ‘quantified self’ – the idea of tracking, capturing and analysing the data you are producing to extra insight into your personal health and wellbeing in the hope that they can identify risks and prevent problems occurring.

Like so many of the trends today the idea of the quantified self is born out of access to, and analysis of, data. But it’s more than that. It’s also about how combining and comparing disparate, seemingly unrelated pieces of information can actually deliver surprising insights and help you get a better understanding on the future might look like. For example, can the combination of oxygen and hormone levels in the blood combined with your movements over the course of the week tell you that you are likely to suffer a heart attack in the next two weeks?

So how does this relate the role of the CIO? To make a (rather tired) analogy you need to imagine the business as a person. Like each of us, every business produces huge quantities of data every day – much of which is apparently mundane, worthless even. The idea of capturing and analysing information isn’t new – as a concept business intelligence has been around nearly as long as I have – but what is new is the type of data we have access to, how it inter-relates and what it tells us about what might lie ahead. How can we use data from one part of the business to make predictions about what we can expect in another? How do we better ensure that we understand the value of the different data streams? Seemingly trivial information can become very valuable if combined with other data and analysed in the right way.

The nirvana for both business and individual is to be able to access and interrogate a single application that can answer any question that you have, on aspect of person or organisation (past, present or future) and for it to be able to answer quickly and accurately based on analysis of every relevant piece of data (think Holly in Red Dwarf). Ask it a question and it will give you an answer. This isn’t about technology or analytics it’s simply about knowledge and making the most of the data you have. Imagine the value that you, as a CIO, could bring to an organisation if you were able to deliver a simple, accurate answer to any question posed about the business, in any area?

Clearly we are a little way from that, yet but perhaps not as far away as we may think. The data is already there and, some would argue, the technology. The third piece of the puzzle comes down to our own ability to think differently about the information that is in front of us. As the Chief Information Officer a key part of the role is to set the agenda in terms of how data is viewed and valued. We need to get out of the linear way of thinking and stand back. Look for patterns in unusual places, treat each piece of data as if it has something to tell us.  

Of course there is such a thing as too much self analysis. There is always room for gut feel and the odd leap into the unknown but instead of looking for the answers that you already expect to be in the data, stand back and look for the unexpected or the unusual.