“Data is the new oil"​ (the 2021 perspective)



In 2006, Clive Humby claimed that “data is the new oil", fifteen years, big shifts in technology and a global pandemic later, I wanted to re-explore this to see if it has become a reality.

When data is properly “refined”, it quickly becomes a valuable decision-making tool, allowing a company to react to market forces and be proactive in its decision-making.

During the COVID-19 outbreak the value of oil collapsed, as a resource it was simply not in demand. However, as for data, it’s been a very different story. In today’s ever-changing environment, especially due to widespread concerns of the health and economic implications of COVID-19, data is more in demand and valuable than ever.


However, what we have seen with much of COVID-19 data is that more data does not always equal better information. In fact, like the best examples of marketing, it is quality that wins over quantity.


Although often overused, the term “data economy” describes the influence and prominence of big data in today’s society and this should not be underestimated. So, what can we learn from these times?


“companies that excel at integrating data into their strategy, operations and culture are largely outpacing their peers in revenue growth and profitability.” - IBM, 2021 C-Suite Study

This suggests that, generally, companies that have invested in and continue to invest in maturing their management of existing data, growth of usable data, and usage of data analytics will continue to thrive even in times of economic uncertainty.


The 4 Stages of Data Leadership

The IBM 20th Global C-Suite Study - Build Your Trust Advantage interviewed 13,484 C-Suite executives. It defines 4 stages of data leadership:

  1. Aspirationals - Beginning to integrate data strategies, but do not have a data-driven culture in place. They have had only limited success in creating foundations and extracting value from data.

  2. Builders - Making progress in aligning business, creating data strategies and growing a data culture. These businesses are applying data to objectives, but are not yet achieving their expected returns.

  3. Explorers - Experimenting ways to integrate business and data strategies, working through new ways to extract value from data. Doesn't consistently realise its highest possible value but can it as a path to achieving benefits.

  4. Torchbearers - A unique group of organisations who have fused data strategy to business strategy. Operating in a data-rich culture, they generate higher revenue growth and profitability than their peers.

So how do these classifications look against its participants?



The 4 Barriers to Delivering Data Strategy

It is clear from the above, businesses have a long way to go to leverage data and deliver competitor advantage. So what is stopping them?

  1. Multiple silos of data - The struggle to identify and connect many sources of data, then understand quality with GDPR regulations and COVID-19, this has created many data challenges that often requires expertise.

  2. Defining goals - Most big data project leaders lack vision and clear definition of what the business goals and outcomes are.

  3. Skillsets - Demand for data expertise in the UK has tripled over the past five years, however, this is not just a UK challenge, but also a global one. Data from QuantHub indicates there was a shortage of 250,000 data science professionals in 2020.

  4. Confidence in taking the data leap - This often happens in our everyday lives, but quite simply other "easier" things are prioritised. When data strategy and associated data projects are not addressed, data deteriorates and issues multiply.

The key takeaway being that business leaders MUST reposition data as an asset of strategic value, rather than a resource viewed in tactical, operational terms.

Keen to hear some of your data challenges and stories...

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