FAQ 9: Is data really the new oil?

FAQ 9: Is data really the new oil?

Lindsay Herbert, keynote speaker and author of the acclaimed book ‘Digital Transformation’ continues her series answering frequently asked questions on the subject of digital transformation.

Here Lindsay answers the question: “Is data really the new oil?”


Hi, I’m Lindsay Herbert and this Friday’s answered question is: “Is data really the new oil?”

Now, I hear this constantly, this silly phrase. It’s at the beginning of conferences, it’s at the introduction of a report and I don’t know who first came up with this concept of “data is the new oil“. It’s supposed to mean that data in itself is inherently valuable and, therefore, we should treat it as much as we would treat any natural resource, like oil, when it couldn’t actually be farther from the truth.

If I strike oil, I know exactly how much that resource is worth. I know what to do with it. I can put it in a barrel, I can sell it on the market, I can sell it in any country. Data, on the other hand, you have no idea how the data has been collected in many cases if it’s trustworthy or not. If it was collected in a way that is trustworthy and is worthy for some use, it’s probably the most useful for the person who collected it in the first place. So trying to transfer the value to a new owner, who wasn’t involved in the setup of the collection of that data, is going to be a challenge.

Now, let’s say you’ve got those first two things covered though. You know how it was collected, you can trust it and you’ve got a really good use case for it. Well, most companies are really challenged to figure out how to act on the insights that they glean from data. So, they might have all the pieces of the puzzle, but they’re not set up in a way to actually do anything with those insights. [such as] offer a more personalized service, change how a process is running, etc.

So, to say that data in itself is valuable is so far from the truth. You have to do something to it. You can’t just wait for the data fairy to come along and wave her magic wand, tap your database and instantly turn it into cash. And yet, so many people are just sitting on mounds of data in the hopes that this is going to happen and what that does is it leads to complacency. It leads to people just sitting back and waiting for that magic commercialisation use case, instead of figuring out ways right now to put their data to work, which might actually mean having to share that data and collaborate with another company or many other companies to figure out how can we come up with a way that we can make use of the data that we’ve got and actually be able to act on it.

So, please, it’s my new personal campaign. Can we all stop saying that “data is the new oil” and instead recognize it for what it really is, something that could lead to value, but has a huge amount of human intelligence that has to be applied to it first before you’re going to extract a single penny? Thanks!

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