Welcome to the Era of Context

This is a guest post by Nathan Kinch, Co-Founder of Sports Ollo and Entrepreneur in Residence at edgelabs. Connect with Nathan at @NathanKinch or check out the original post on LinkedIn.

Context is defined as the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood.

For me, the true value of this definition resides in the final two words; fully understood.

In a world where we are constantly overloaded with information, how does one make sense of the madness?

It’s quite clear that we are no longer living in the information age. In fact, Reid Hoffman recently referred to this current time as The Networked Age. I think this is much closer to reality, but I do not believe that it paints the entire picture.

I believe that we now reside in the era of context, with context itself, or more appropriately, the understanding context provides, being the most valuable resource available to us.


As I highlighted above, context frames understanding. And, when information is fully understood it can be acted upon.

Big data, open data, social media, the IoT and personal clouds are all part of the shift towards our every move being powered by context.

This is highly relevant in business, as we desperately desire strategic, operation and customer-facing insight that will give us a competitive advantage.

In our personal lives, the idea of the quantified self, and the context that surrounds that data, can in fact give us insight into how we can perform more effectively in line with our objectives, whatever they may be.

In short, we, regardless of who we are, want to understand the journey, or the pieces of the puzzle that make something whole. And our best chance to achieve this comes through context driven insight.

Let’s look at two different examples:

  1. Sally owns a simple coffee shop. Each and every day at 5am, Sally comes into her shop, checks stock, sets up and makes sure everything is in order. It’s a Saturday and although the weather is poor, she’s fully expecting it to be busy. But, by 12 o’clock, she’s only seen fifteen customers, and has had to send two staff members home. The kitchen staff, merely doing their job, have prepared way too much food given the days customer flow, and as a result, most of the food will likely go to waste. The day has been an unexplained disaster and Sally has run at a huge loss.
  2. It’s Friday night at 6pm and Sally is preparing for her next day at work, fully aware she has to be awake by 4.15am. Sally is sitting on the coach and unlocks her iPad. She’s really excited as she has just downloaded a new application that aggregates her business’s data, combines it with the data that is relevant to her environment and objectives, and analyses that to deliver contextual historic, real-time and predictive insight. Sally asks the app, “How is my day looking tomorrow?” The app then looks at the social data of known customers and competitors, the weather, local events, supplier data and various other data sets that may impact or influence customer flow and the overall success of her business tomorrow. The application then tells her that there are two major events, two tram lines shut for rail-works, a major café opening that has been receiving national media attention, and to top that off, the weather is going to be close to cyclonic. The app advises Sally that it predicts she will only see between 15 and 22 customers for the entire day, and gives her some options, based on what it knows about her business to manage the poor expectations and mitigate Sally’s risk for that day. Sally makes an informed decision, notifies her staff and is able to almost break even on a day that could have been disastrous.

The second scenario serves to highlight the power of context driven insight, and, is the likely progression of data-driven business applications.

The era of context is about making sense of the multitude of information that now exists and is constantly being produced, making it readily available and utilising it to help us achieve our objectives.

Context driven insight will power our decision making in the years to come, it’s up to you to make sure that you take advantage of this capability.

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