Data is still like crude oil

Data is the new oil

Data is just like crude. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used.

If you are involved in business intelligence, business analytics or big data, you have undoubtedly heard how ‘Data is the new oil’. Heck, you may have even used it yourselves. After all, searching for ‘Data is the new oil’ returns over 550M hits on Google.

What you may not know is Clive Humby first coined this term in 2006 in ANA Marketing Maestros: Data is the New Oil.

What I love about it is the inherent contradiction:

  1. Oil has been the key commodity to own over the past century – think about the billions of dollars traded daily, not to mention the countless lives lost because of it
  2. Oil is however, just a commodity. Just like data it’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used.

Let’s put things in perspective. We ‘ve all seen many studies quoting how much data we have at our disposal today. Here is one from 2013: 90% of world’s data was generated over last two years.

So, that’s a good thing, right? Not so fast….

Data, just like crude oil, does not lead to better business decisions unless we can extract insights from it. We are so focused on the data we now have that we forgot most people are unable to extract even the most basic insights from their data.

To those of you using data to make better business decisions, I say this: I am sorry. We, in the business of delivering the technology to help you, have failed you.

Our obsessive focus on the 1% has caused us to forget the other 99% who are left dealing with spreadsheets.

Don’t get me wrong; the 40+ year-old Business Intelligence industry has created value. This is especially true for the technology companies that provide these products and services – more than $15B in 2014. At the same time, despite buzzwords such as personal data warehouse, self-service BI and now Agile Business Intelligence, it has failed to deliver on the promise of putting the power of information at the hands of the people that need it.

If you don’t believe me, here are some facts:

Ask yourselves these questions:

  • When you need to create a new dashboard or modify an existing one, can you do it yourselves or do you need to ask your IT department?
  • How long does it take your IT department to get you what you need?
  • How much of the data you need to drive business decisions lives in your BI platform versus your spreadsheets?

I can go on and on, but you get the point. Your over-worked and over-stressed IT department is trying to fulfill your requirements with one hand tied behind their back.

Now imagine. What if?

  • Your entire organization had access to the same real-time data
  • You could create and modify your reports and dashboards without any IT help
  • You could share your reports and dashboards with your colleagues and collaborate in real-time

So, the request to my friends and colleagues in the industry is this: Let’s start focusing on the 99% and the value will come. Only then we can move forward and help realize the promises we ‘ve been making for years.

I am sure this post will create a heated discussion and as always I look forward your comments…

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2 Responses to Data is still like crude oil

  1. gregmisiorek January 26, 2015 at 17:46 #

    Hi Ted,

    good to see you blogging. i think you have arrived at the gold mountain, but not quite the gold mine yet. spreadsheets are there, alive and kicking, and i just don’t see them go away any time soon. in fact, seamless integration with the rest of bi, and its source – erp, actually adds value to both applications, leveraging each other in a way.
    don’t get me wrong. more competition in the spreadsheet world would, i think, make it better, e.g. better suited to mobile devices.
    i never heard of the data analogy to oil and i must say it sounds interesting, but maybe less relevant now than back in 2006, imho. rather than oil, i can see, data more like electricity, regardless how it was created. just look how excited we are about electric cars, even after the recent steep decline in the oil price.
    so spreadsheets hold sway in the bi finance world and are the true gold mine to Microsoft by their simplicity, lock on PC, and ubiquity. different bi tools try to upstage them and may actually accomplish that some day, but i still don’t expect tableau, google docs, or the latest arrival – fieldbook – to take users away from the visicalc.
    i’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong.

    • Ted Sapountzis January 28, 2015 at 11:45 #

      Greg, thank you for your comments.

      It’s interesting that you are comparing data to electricity because for me the parallel is with insights, not data. When you plug in your electric car, or other favorite device, to an outlet it just works. Data, on the other hand, is useless IMHO, unless you can extract insights from it.

      While I (and many other, smarter than me, folks) are equally pessimistic on the industry’s ability to upstage Excel, I truly believe this is the goal we need to be striving for.

      Based on my personal experience and after having observed and spoken with countless of professionals, most of the data we analyze in a business context either lives in our enterprise systems or should. Being able to emulate the easy-to-use experience of Excel while staying connected to our enterprise data is the key way to help organizations improve their ability to manage their business.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

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