Is Data the New Gold?

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Everybody loves gold. It’s shiny and is perceived to have a value and status, due in part to its relative rarity. But data doesn’t have the same allure. Unlike gold, data is everywhere and doesn’t have the same mass appeal, but is it worth just as much? Below CEO Today hears from Matt Shepherd, Head of Data Strategy, BBH London, who digs deep into the gold mine.

The ancient Egyptians were the first to smelt gold over five thousand years ago. Since those early days, mankind has been captivated by the precious metal, and the desire to own it has led to great gold rushes and wars. Relatively speaking the data rush is only just beginning, the data war hasn’t started yet.

To obtain value from gold, it needs to be minted into coins, fashioned into jewellery, or increasingly used in technology thanks to its conductivity. This productisation creates a valuable entity that drives business profit. Data collected in isolation has no value, so like gold, it needs to be manipulated and analysed to get the most out of it.

Therefore like gold, data is a commodity. And it is the insight mined from this valuable resource that is the currency that gives you and your company the means to drive organic growth. Therefore while it is critically important to collect data (Like our forefathers mining for gold), the real impact comes from analysing the data you collect and hold in your vault.

‘Big Data’ is a topic that has plateaued in the last couple of years, bigger isn’t always better, big insights are more important than big data. We have had more data at our fingertips than we can reasonably use for a few years now and in contrast to this abundant data, insights remain relatively rare.

Finding these insights requires different people, technology, and skills. Insights derived from the smart use of data are hugely powerful, if they are smart and actionable they will have a real impact on your business. Brands and companies that are able to develop smart actionable insights, from any type of data will be winners. An experienced goldsmith with the right tools is going to add more value to the raw material than an apprentice with a hammer.

Like gold, the quality of data is also important, you can’t make an 18 karat ring from a 9 karat nugget. The lower grade material might be cheaper, but it won’t last as long. In the gold world ‘hardness’ does not equal ‘durability’. The same is true of data. Garbage in equals garbage out. High-quality data is fundamental to producing reliable models and insights. Regardless of how good your models are, if the data used to create them is poor, incomplete, outdated, biased or otherwise inaccurate, then the resulting predictions have little chance of being accurate, reliable or impactful.

Data has a shorter history than gold, but it will have a greater impact on global businesses of all sizes in the future. We have already seen that the companies that have already figured out how to collect and use data are outperforming their competitors. Look at Google, Facebook, Amazon & Uber for example, the applications they make are primarily aimed at collecting data.

So is data the new gold? Data is a commodity like gold. Quality is important, like gold. It needs refining to get the most out of it, like gold. But data isn’t valuable, it is everywhere. The value of data is the insight that it can create.

Insights derived from the smart use of good quality data are very powerful. Brands and companies that are able to develop actionable insights, from any level of data will be winners.

So is data the new gold? No, data is fools gold. Insight is pure gold.

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