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Ahead of a series of major foresight events across Asia, we are very pleased to be sharing some initial views this week in Singapore on the key topic of the future value of data.
The value of data is an issue of interest to many. In a world where multiple systems are being transformed by digital, there are a host of organisations rushing to capitalise on the opportunity. They are not only digitising their businesses and creating new digital business models and platforms, but within this many are also seeing that their future value lies in data on which such models depend. This is common to a wide range of sectors and is evidently fuelling a 'data land grab' by many. There is however an important underlying question that has not yet been clearly addressed. This is what we actually mean by the 'value' of data. Recent events suggest that data sets can be both the most precious economic asset on earth as well as a liability that is used against our most precious institutions. The question of where the value in data lies then, is pivotal to how we understand the future of data ownership, access, regulation and use.
The data debate is becoming extreme. Many protagonists adopt 'all or nothing' positions around issues such as privacy, encryption, security and economic freedom. Data can clearly fulfil different roles in the economy, in society and for organisations and individuals. However, some simplistic views help us understand some roles - but also mislead and blind us.
Oil: The perspective that data is the new oil is one example in common debate: Vast hordes of it can make its owners very wealthy and powerful but it is however not a finite, exhaustible resource, nor are the costs of extraction high. So maybe it is not really like oil?
Currency: Equally some suggest that data is the new currency. Data can certainly serve as a medium for exchange and can also be used as a store of value… but describing data as currency really doesn't tell us much. It just confirms that data has value in certain contexts.
Water: Others we have talked to take a more holistic view and suggest data to be more like water - abundant and essential. It enables many other things of greater economic value to grow and develop. But in many contexts, it itself is maybe seen to have little or no value.
All three analogies have merit, but none seem to be quite right? There is no clear shared view on what data actually is - this may hold us back. As we move ahead, many now recognise that we need a better, more informed, forward looking, global, cross-industry view. If companies, governments and individuals are going to make the most of all the new data increasingly available, then several now consider that we need a more coherent picture of its real value. Too many strategic assumptions are being made without a shared, informed common perspective.