What good is dormant data?

Mother Earth has endowed humanity with many natural resources. Using exploration, extractionand refinery skills, humans were able to extract value from commodities likegold, iron and oil.

It is not surprising that to this day, human beings are fighting over land and other natural resources. The groups of people who have figured out how to optimally extract value from commodities are at loggerheads with those who were dealt a good hand in the lottery of resource allocation. There is a fight, mostly from former colonies who want ownership of their land, minerals, oil and othernatural resources that are domiciled in their territories.

Who owns the mines? Is it the company that invested lots of money and effort into the mine or the people who own the land that the mine is located? What good is gold that is not mined and buried in the ground? Where does the value of gold come from? Where in the value chain does oil become a valuable commodity?

The discussion on commodities is motivated by the fact that data has been christened as the “new oil”. Data is now available in large quantities of varying quality across the globe. Questions have arisen around ownership of data, its manipulation and where its value lies. What good is data that is lying dormant in a corporate data-lake? What good is data that is not analyzed correctly?

The diffusion of the smartphone and internet technologies to all corners of the earth can be attributed as the main driver for the explosion of data. The availability of data is a consequence of adoption of these and otherinnovations by the general public.

The data commodity presents a lucrative, fast-growing industry that has prompted antitrust regulators to step in to restrain those who control its flow. A century ago, the resource in question was oil. Regulators wanted Standard Oil to be disbanded because it had become a monopoly. In today’s terms, think of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba and other corporations that areamassing obscene amounts of data at any given moment.

Oil was necessary for transportation, electricity and other fundamental uses, necessaryfor people to industrialize and progress, but data is far much more intrusivein people’s lives. Data cuts across the full spectrum of life.

Data can be collected on anything and everything. The exponential growth in the collection of vast amounts of data can be associated with the emergence of online interoperability through Application Programmable Interfaces (APIs) which allowed different entities on the wide world web to be able to communicate and exchange information.

The use ofAPIs has been extended to the physical world through the Internet of Everything.  With so much data humans have been able to understand and manipulate phenomena that were reserved for the divine. Gene sequencing and editing are examples of the humans doing Godly things.

Corporations may have the data but what good is the data if it’s not being used to understand the world? What good is data if it’s not leading to the progress of humanity?

The toughest problems on Earth require a proper understanding through data.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft is leading the way in making use of data in understanding if humanity is making progress or not. The world agreed on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, the problem was that no one was tracking the progress towards these goals so The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation started the Goalkeepers initiative to motivate people to be data-driven guardians of progress. Without data how will we ever know what we have done and what still needs to be done?

Data is the new oil, let’s work the databases like we have worked the oilfields and mines.The data commodity is only valuable if it helps humanity move forward.

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