Is Data Really the New Oil?

"There is too much being read and made out of data and as usual it's going through the hype-curve right now."

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Nowadays, it's very common to hear this phrase -- data is the new oil, meaning data is the new currency or money. I'm going to take a contrarian view of this & will be curious to see what the reaction is to this.


Let's look at the commodity in comparison first, oil. Oil is a well-known commodity and is traded actively in both electronic and actual form. Below is a table of different exchange price for the crude variety/ index. What the trading price signifies is -- there is an active interest in this commodity and there is a willing buyer available who's ready to buy today and right now at the price that's being shown on the live desk. This commodity is for REAL !! there is money being paid by customers and a substantial chunk at that. Where is oil headed and what price will it command etc are a different discussion all-together.

What is Data's Real Worth?

Let's now look at data. It's being touted as the future and that data is what holds deep insight and hence the future of where we are headed. To some extend that may be true, but the question that' begging to be asked is - is data really worth as much as all the pundits and business doyens are making out to be or is it something else.

Let's take an example. An air flight supposedly could generate half TB of data per flight. Aeroplanes today have thousands of sensors and getting into the 10's of thousands of sensors pretty soon. This means explosion of data being generated by a single aircraft or a single flight.

There are upwards of 100,000+ flights any given day and 5000+ planes in the sky any point in time all day, all year. What would anyone do with all these data being generated by the minute? Do we even have people, time, systems to look and analyze into these data-sets where everyone hour that data becomes stale and there tons of new data points the next day.

Data Explosion

Sure, some of these give a health check of the engines and various other critical components and helps give a sense of the functionality, wear and tear and allows for part replacement or fast-diagnosis and hence fast fixing, allowing for higher efficiency and hence productivity. These are useful. What about all the other tons of data that gets produced flight-after-flight, day-after-day ? Is it worth generated all the data, which supposedly could have some nuggets of insights /value, which will need to mined out carefully? This question obviously not restricted to the aerospace industry and applies to all sectors where data explosion is happening or going to happen big time.

Data Going Through Hyper-curve

This gets us to the moot point of this note. Is all of this data that valuable, which we are all making out to be? More importantly are customers ready to pay for this data or the insight these data produce? If they do pay, how much do they really pay? Will they keep paying for this insight day after day? like for some of the other products , solutions, services that they buy from dozens of providers ? These are questions that don't really come to the fore, especially when there is a jingoistic feeling for all things data and there are companies being built around all things data. I'm not saying, data is not important or will not play its part in the scheme of things, but I'm just saying there is too much being read and made out of data and as usual it's going through the hype-curve right now.