I recently conducted a Google search to try to find out how much data is being generated in the world today and is expected to be created in the years ahead.

As you might expect, there is a cottage industry of research firms which offers differing draw-dropping statistics and projections about the data volumes. International Data Corp., for example, predicts that by 2025, the world will be producing 163 zettabytes (a zettabyte has 21 zeros) of data a year, a 10-fold increase from what we are seeing today. Cisco Systems, the big networking equipment manufacturer, estimates that by the end of 2019, the Internet of Things alone will be generating more than 500 zettabytes of data per year.

For manufacturers that are increasingly networking and IP-enabling their factory floor equipment and producing smart products, dealing with mushrooming data volumes is already a big issue. In the ML Council’s new survey on Transformative Technologies, the stat that stood out for me was that only 9% said their companies are well prepared at this time to deal with volumes of data that are being generated from their networked operations.

Looking ahead, how can an organization stay ahead of a mounting wave?

The reality is we are not going to address the problem by connecting less or limiting new sources of data generation because such actions could limit opportunity. We can and will get better at dealing with the volumes themselves by devising better management techniques and applying better tools.

But perhaps the more important answer lies in how we should think about data. Data has to be looked at as a critical asset, one that can and will yield insights to create new products, new services, and new ways to excite customers. It might even produce ideas for new businesses or business models.

Viewed this way, the problem of data becomes the opportunity with data. Perhaps ironically, data may very well end up being one of the most profound agents of change we’ve ever seen.