Datafication: Turning phenomena into data

The ways in which we will define and redefine our existence in future is inextricably linked to the process of datafication and automation.
Lavina Ramkissoon
By Lavina Ramkissoon, Conscious Creator I Trailblazer I Thought Leader
Johannesburg, 22 Apr 2022

Data is a crucial enabler for all trends these days. All of the digitisation in our world today means we have enormous amounts of data available, and data has now become the number one business asset for every organisation.

We can use data to understand our customers, research key trends better, and get insight into what’s working inside our organisations. This is known as datafication. The term loosely refers to the process of turning phenomena into data. That said, are we a data-fried society?

After analysing the topic, I could say that many of us understand the meaning of the term but probably have not cracked the application.

Datafication is helping us to understand the world in a way we never did before.

Let’s say social platforms, Facebook or Twitter, for example, collect and monitor data information of our friendships to market products and services to us and surveillance services to agencies, which in turn changes our behaviour. Promotions that we see daily on the social networks are also the result of the monitored data.

In this model, data is used to redefine how content is created by datafication to inform content rather than recommendation systems − analysing Facebook and Twitter data to determine and predict sales rather than contextualisation of the data behaviour of its users.

Datafication is helping us to understand the world in a way we never did before. Contextualisation of data becomes a key driver to unlocking its actual value state.

This is where the race between man and machine finds itself for now. New technologies are now available to ingest, store, process and visualise that data. Organisations are using them to get benefits but not actual data value yet.

Industry applications where sense datafication is actively applied include:

Insurance: Data is used to update risk profile development and business models.

Banking: Data is used to establish trustworthiness and likelihood of a person paying back a loan.

Human resources: Data is used to identify, for example, employees’ risk-taking profiles.

Hiring and recruitment: Data is used to replace personality tests.

Social science research: Datafication replaces sampling techniques and restructures how social science research is performed.

Hence, datafication relies heavily upon artificial intelligence; material infrastructure of hardware; what we know from data, trust of data, the origin of data; social, political and cultural context; real-time analysis and framing; and let us not forget data privacy. Complex!

On the one hand, datafication appears to be operating on a shorter scale than our deeply-rooted collective culture. On the other hand, datafication operates on a scale broader than that over which our individual memories can operate.

Moreover, these datafied systems are processing and reacting upon billions of data points every second.

The combination of political, geopolitical, technological and socio-cultural shifts suggests a change in how we understand rights is most likely already under way. And one undercurrent fuelling this process is most likely the shift in worldview spurred by datafication.

Datafication (a term coined in 2013) makes it possible for individuals or businesses to improve operations and thus increase productivity and cushion their revenue. It can help organisations accomplish day-to-day tasks at the micro-level while maximising resources.

In addition, it can streamline current strategies and processes at the macro level, allowing users to remain ‘trendingly’ competitive.

The ways in which we will define and redefine our existence is inextricably linked to the process of datafication and automation. The value systems promoted by such technologies can become normalised, adopted, and after that, complicated to observe, and even more difficult to push back against.

Humans and organisations must understand these processes and help shape them, guiding or combatting their designs and deployment as we move into the future.

Understanding how datafication affects the rights and interests of people and power relationships at large is vital for an effective defence of our rights.