“There's a whole ocean of oil under our feet! No one can get at it except for me!”
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated drama There Will Be Blood told the story of oil prospector, Daniel Plainview, a man hellbent on reaping the rewards of California’s fertile land. Driven mad by the search for oil, and the power it gave him over others, Plainview quickly becomes isolated within the community and distrusted for the deals he makes in bad-faith, affecting both his empire and humanity in the process.
This American fable would, on the surface, have little to do with the secretive and siloed world of modern corporations. But the temptation of oil to those in the 20th century is not dissimilar to the impact of data on the modern enterprise. As the source of power in today’s digitally native world, data has been lauded as simply the ‘next oil’ - a precious commodity - there to be collected and applied for reward and gain as businesses see fit.
Plainview’s story, however, teaches us a different lesson: that the future does not belong to the closed data depositories of tech titans. Instead, the rise of disruptive players points toward a new reality, in which openness and collaboration reign supreme. Plainview failed not because of oil - in fact, he ends the film incredibly wealthy and successful from a top line perspective. His selfish nature, however, created a business model impossible to sustain beyond his personal tenure. A lack of trust had a far bigger impact on him and those around him than any amount of money.
The truth is in the data: stop and listen
In one of our recent studies, which looked at the current state of privacy across key markets globally, HERE Technologies found that just 20 per cent of people felt they had full control over their personal location data. Fuelled in large parts by the recent high-profile examinations of tech companies, such as the harvesting of data from Android devices in Australia by Google, people have woken up to the potential and risk of their own information.
The concentration of data in the hands of just a few businesses is likely unsustainable in the long term. If data is continued to be treated as the ‘next oil’, organisations will likely feel the need to win over market share at any cost, just like Plainview before them. Amongst this race, they risk creating conflict between themselves – the consequence of which may fall not solely on them, but on to us.
Data still has the chance to salvage its own legacy. While the metaphor of data as oil’s replacement is far too broad, it is not without merit. The value of oil derives from the particular combination of use and scarcity - the fuel to various industries and livelihoods; but ultimately finite. The age-old market structures of supply and demand dictate the impact of oil on the everyday user through monetary cost.
In comparison, data’s worth actually increases the more it is used, meaning it comes with a very different cost. In fact, data reflects renewable energy sources more than any fossil fuel - the sun, wind, or the ocean, for example. And it is here that Plainview’s second teaching reveals itself: the need for a higher cause when it comes to data. Crucially, it’s not a path that suits the individual.
From fossil to future: debunking the oil stereotype
Similar to renewable sources of energy, data promotes sustainability because individuals have a stake in its success. Our planet cannot survive on oil alone, nor can data achieve its full potential under the custodianship of one enterprise. Every individual must understand the role their data plays in informing businesses, and the subsequent development of services that circle back to them.
At this moment in time, 44 per cent say they have shared data with app and service providers unintentionally. HERE’s findings suggest a lack of consideration from consumers around data’s journey, longevity, and overall value. Data is not a singular transaction but rather an evolving illustration of how people now interact and coexist. The way companies operate should reflect this human trait of sharing. Compatibility across the board in terms of collaboration, therefore, will ultimately lead to greater success.
The onus is on businesses to develop a more sustainable model for data; its capture, study, and reintroduction as a consumer offering in the end. Input from more than one source can strengthen the value of data and lead to the discovery of new applications. Companies will have to engage with their customers and other businesses in a way that promotes stronger and more enduring relationships, fostering collaboration in the process. The use cases of one company’s data become much stronger once it’s shared with others, something the HERE Open Location Platform, a location centric collaborative data platform, provides to developers.
Lessons from history: what next for data?
As businesses begin to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning in more intelligent ways, changing the mindset of organisations is the first step to solving the current disharmony at the heart of the consumer-business relationship. Once individuals begin to believe that companies are invested in something more than just personal profit - promoting data welfare or smarter public services for example - these revolutionary tools can help speed up the pace of innovation.
Who knows if Plainview would have found happiness beyond the boundaries of his own decisions. What is certain, however, is that his oil business would have been more sustainable if enemies had been replaced with partners. Modern businesses have the opportunity to build more valuable legacies if data is treated as an open commodity and the foundation for more collaborative projects that deliver worth beyond their means. Data is not the next oil, but there’s a valuable lesson in its history nonetheless.
Peter Kürpick, Chief Platform Officer, HERE Technologies
Image Credit: Flickr / janneke staaks