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The Value of Data: Is data this century’s oil?

Published about 1 month ago by Joel Hughes

Data and oil. On paper, they seem a million miles apart. One is the world’s fuel of choice and the other is an endless supply of stats and figures. But when they are compared more closely, they have more in common that you might think.

Over a century ago, oil started to be extracted, refined and sold to be used in a variety of different ways. It quickly became an essential commodity, which in turn created a lucrative and fast-growing industry that seemed unstoppable. It created employment, helped businesses and the economy to thrive and made our everyday lives that bit easier. The industry continues to remain strong to this day. Fast forward to now and the same story can be told about data.

The digital world of today

As we delve ever deeper into the digital world, everything we do is driven by data. Whether you’re watching your favourite TV show, stuck in traffic or walking to a local coffee shop, there will be some form of data recorded. This is largely due to our increased use of devices such as smartphones, smart watches and tablets over the past decade. It has, in some ways, become something that we can no longer do without.

Some of the biggest and most well-known companies in the world will monitor your data usage in different ways to improve your overall experience using their apps and websites.

The idea that someone is always watching might sound terrifying, but it’s done in a bid to try and understand your needs, while also providing them with a major revenue stream. Google and Amazon both use consumer data to see what people buy and search for, in order to give relevant recommendations that increase sales and engagement.

Social media giant Facebook also keeps its beady eye on what it’s users post and like.

If you use the app regularly, you’ve probably noticed their clever use of targeted advertising which relies heavily on the data you provide. By simply liking a page, the lovely people at Facebook know what you like and can give you recommendations on other pages you might find interesting. They also use data to monitor your status updates and hashtags, while also knowing where you are posting from thanks to the GPS on your devices.

Data and Recruitment

Our social lives and shopping habits aren’t the only thing being influenced by data. Recruitment agencies are also starting to adapt to the new digital world we are living in by utilising the data provided by candidates who spend more and more time online. Recruiters can use data to gain a better understanding of their candidates and to predict when they might want to change careers. It can be used to gain greater insights into business trends and job search behaviours, as well as helping them to fill client positions quickly with more suitably matched candidates. In short, it’s a win-win situation all round.

The number of data-based roles has also increased significantly as businesses across all sectors are eager to use data in more innovative ways going forward. Artificial intelligence and the use of algorithms are slowly being introduced in varying ways to improve efficiency and consumer experience.

The million-dollar question

The debate over whether data is the new oil has been going on for over a decade, ever since Clive Humby, founder of leading marketing analysts Dunnhumby, made the public comparison at a popular marketing summit. It’s something that has divided opinion between many experts across many key industries. Some think that the skies are the limit when it comes to using data, whereas others feel that stricter regulations need to be enforced to keep mega companies such as Apple and Google in check.

One thing that does separate data from oil is its supply. We may have an abundant supply of oil for now, but it will run out if we continue using it in such hefty volumes. Data however is infinite. There is more of it than many of us can even comprehend and it can be used time and time again by numerous companies and services. The only limit we have is our creativity in terms of how we decide to use it.

With GDPR helping to make data more secure and the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution set to have a huge impact on businesses and the economy, there is no denying that data is here to stay. So, rather than comparing it so closely to oil, perhaps we should look at data with fresh eyes and continue to experiment with what it can do for us. With such endless possibilities, the future of data couldn’t be more exciting.

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