Friday, February 15, 2013

Revenge of the Data

I have been following with relish the story about Elon Musk's war with the New York Times over a negative review of their Tesla S electric vehicle. What I loved about Musk's retort to the New York Times story is how Tesla Motors managed to use device data to refute the story. The war ends up being a debate between the hard data in the device and the reporter's notes.

I take away three conclusions from this episode:
Reporter's vehicle log as annotated by an angry Elon Musk

  1. Data is power. Companies that think about information they could or already do have available and then exploit that data create sustainable competitive advantage through their installed base. I learned this first hand at PPG Industries, where we were able to use tint machine data to examine paint color usage by region. I only wish that PPG had been more open to using the color chip rack to collect data (discretely and privately) about user interactions with the display. At Vocollect, we are exploring a wide variety of ways to aggregate data from our wearable devices to enhance the user experience.
  2. Companies should get data in the hands of users. I see this war in part as a problem stemming from the New York Times reporter's inability to get all of the information he could have had available...information Tesla then gathered from the log files. Perhaps giving this information to the user in the first place in a snazzy interface could have prevented some of the reporter's frustrations. Heck, a number of device manufacturers give the data to users in an API and end up getting cool tools for their other users for free, created essentially by fans of the brand.
  3. Don't get into a pissing match in public. Elon Musk, known for his huge ego, could have been more diplomatic and apologetic to the reporter. Abusing customers or potential customers does not position the brand for success. And essentially accusing a reporter at one of the most prestigious papers in the world of journalistic fraud qualifies as abusing potential customers in my book. Tesla Motors might have gotten a better response from the Times and better publicity by working with them to diagnose what had happened rather than by working against them. Unless you believe that all publicity is good publicity, in which case Musk did the right thing by making this story huge.\
I will anxiously await the innovations from car companies and any other company that has direct interaction with the actual consumer, enabling us to understand and improve our own behavior. As you know if you read this blog regularly, I hope to be at the forefront of that user empowerment given my sincere belief in the power of some Major Data Geekitude to improve our collective future.

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