Opinion

Digital environment scanning, unleashed.

Nov 08, 2018

Digital environment scanning heralds a new era of economic reality checking.

Grasping the world around us means understanding both the individuals and the societal structures that constitute it. As more and more spheres of that world migrate to digital realms, it becomes increasingly easier to crack it open by delving into the online cues it leaves behind.

Those deep dives enable two distinct, yet complementary, areas of investigation. While digital ethnography addresses our collective selves(the combined habits, preferences and behaviours of our extended group of people), digital environment scanning examines the economic impacts that arise when our day-to-day actions come, altogether, into fruition.

Economic activity is particularly well-suited to being interpreted through digital proxies. Increasingly, larger portions of business transactions either unfold directly online or then generate digital trails. The prospective online research we all now carry out before making any serious purchase is a testament to that.

Digital pulse-checking can reveal, with astonishing precision and timeliness, insights that transform how we monitor value creation within our modern societies. It can, for example, approximate answers to questions about:

  • What new sectors of the economy are consuming more of people’s attention and monetary expenditures;
  • Which specific enterprise organisations are demonstrating a disproportionally strong performance within each space;
  • Where competitive economic agents are making inroads against each other in their battle to conquer market share;
  • How disparate product and service alternatives work as substitutes to people’s time and spending power;
  • How macro-economic indicators genuinely affect the demand for different kinds of goods;
  • Where and how start-ups (digital or brick-and-mortar) are emerging;
  • Etc.

“Digital pulse-checking can reveal, with astonishing precision and timeliness, insights that transform how we monitor value creation within our modern societies.”

With responsible (in the very least, anonymised, aggregated and consented) access to the right data, a lot can be answered. A ride hailing company can, for example, estimate its market share across micro-pockets of geographical presence. It can also approximate cross-sector elasticity between its services and public transportation alternatives, by studying the real-time correlation between bus route queries and subsequent requests for chauffeur cars. The sophistication and breadth of intelligence that digital environment scanning offers is unbounded.

Ultimately, digital environment scanning sets itself apart from traditional economic research methods because it is deeper, more precise, cheaper and more latent:

  • It is deeper because it offers a granularity of observations which is impractical to glean directly from concrete worlds;
  • It is more precise because it depicts reality exactly how it is, and not how it is thought to be;
  • It is cheaper because it does away with manual data collection and feeds directly off of massively crowdsourced events;
  • It is more latent because it can describe how reality is unfolding instantly – and how it changed from one day, or 60 minutes ago, to now.

The list of players for which digital environment scanning capabilities are valuable is extensive. Governments, enterprises, investors, public-research agencies etc. can all experience drastic benefits from using it. In a day and age when knowledge asymmetry gets to define who wins and who loses in the race for value creation, that type of hyper-granular economic tracking can leave an indelible mark on whomever successfully taps it.