Is data the new oil? Or is it something more? The analogy has gathered both supporters and scrutiny, with people turning it over, analyzing it, and then stripping it down until they come to their own concrete, ever-confident conclusions. Yet the end is always misfocused. It’s not whether or not—or even how—data has become the new oil, but why. What has caused data to be elevated to the point of it being considered the world’s most important resource and, infinitely more important, what does this mean for us?
According to Sal De Masi, Global Director, Data Protection Solutions, Teknicor, oil has taken a back seat to data and the latter’s operational arm, technology. There’s a good reason for it too. For Sal, “The world can function without oil to some degree”, in that there are eco-friendly materials and renewable sources of energy, “technology, however, is a necessity”. Without it, without the ability to interpret the use and meaning of data, the world won’t be able to spin anymore. “Data is now the only commodity that will never change” Sal says, “it may change in its composition, or how much space it takes, but data is data no matter where it is.”
Speaking to a nuance that has missed the inspective gaze of many, Sal makes perfectly clear that, “Data is the most expensive and valuable commodity in the world because it has a big reliance on humans.” He continues, “it’s people who have the ability to instruct machines as to what to do with that data.” It seems then, that our debate had lost sight of the real catalyst of change, the true agents of innovation. For Sal, “Without people who really understand the industry and the core of what it means, there is no translation between what an organization needs and how they establish it.” The debate, reoriented. Technology needs us to function as much as we need it.
This is not to say that oil doesn’t need us: it has to be stored, transported and refined before its true value can be extracted. But as has been noted, there are alternatives. Data, because “data is data”, has no alternative. As we need data more, so it needs us. For Sal, the importance of data has been consistently increasing ever since it first emerged. Yet still, “There is a disproportionate spend that is far too little compared to what the technology is or what is needed.” Whether this is because of corporate bureaucracy, hesitation or uncertainty, for Sal, “We don’t realize the importance of our data until somebody is holding it ransom or we lost it.” Sal concludes with certainty, “Now, more than ever, you need to understand what is happening to your business.”
Speaking with Sal it becomes evident that, semantics and subtleties aside, there has been a shift. But that is no surprise: we arrived at this point on our own momentum, we made it happen. The question is: What becomes of us? For Sal, “Emotional Intelligence is going to be the next biggest asset that is going to separate humans from machinery.” The more technological we become, the more human we need to be. Data can have a tremendously positive or horrifically negative effect on our lives, depending on how it’s used—again something we control. Why spend so much time picking a winner to hold the title of The World’s Most Valuable Resource when we could be making—protecting—the most of both.