My likening data to a by-product of combustion rather than its fuel may seem strange, especially as I have argued that superior data-driven insight is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage in the knowledge economy.
Analogies can help our thinking in two ways – firstly grabbing attention to change a mind set; secondly changing the way we think to support behaviour changes. In the context of the latter, analogies are a staple for therapists – as anyone who has recently visited a physio or other therapist will probably remember. And given the continuing need for organisations to change – whether by continuous improvement or more radical transformation – analogies of the second type are a valuable enabler in business.
Data as the new oil fits into the first type of analogy. It’s memorable, signals value (both fuel and lubricant to the global economy) with some eco-friendly overtones (the age of oil is over). So it stands out. But does it help beyond that? Not really. There may appear to be some mileage in the refining idea. But crude oil is refined into multiple different products – jet fuel at the top end of the quality spectrum and bitumen at the bottom with petrol, diesel, gas, lubricants, marine fuel and liquified gas coming somewhere in between – all of which are then sold to different types of customers. Outside organisations that specialise in data monetisation, the data as oil analogy doesn’t really stretch into anything that has practical application.
A far more useful analogy is seeing data as digital exhaust. Automotive exhaust was originally collected and treated in catalytic converters to meet emission controls. Similarly data in organisations has traditionally been collected to meet regulatory requirements – financial reporting, compliance, etc. Catalytic converters were replaced by turbochargers which didn’t just ensure that regulatory requirements were met, they recycled exhaust emissions to improve performance. And turbocharging technology has developed to such a level that a small car can achieve 60 mpg driving across a town while emitting cleaner air than it takes in.
In the case of digital exhaust, the turbocharger age is just beginning. The organisations who achieve superior performance will be the ones that recycle data most effectively to reduce costs while providing a superior experience to customers (and other stakeholders), differentiating them from competitors and driving growth in revenues and investment returns.
Read my article describing how businesses can build a data turbocharger to enable insight advantage can be found here: