Data damming breaks data value for all

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The murmurs at Strata over data having value and how it's understandable that enterprises are loathe to share their data because, well, data has value was very disconcerting. Yes, it's true that data has value, particularly to the possessor. But it is also true that data has more value to the possessor when it is added to the collective. Think of it this way. What if Sir Isaac Newton, one of the fathers of science, said "Knowledge is power. Therefore I will keep it for myself and be powerful." Where would we all be now?

Data is knowledge. By holding it close to your chest you are limiting how much knowledge you can possess because just as none of your knowledge is going out, not enough knowledge is coming in. Ah, you might say, that's ok, my big data is plenty big enough. I don't need any data other than the data I collect myself. Umm, no, you need more than that. Unless of course your company's core competency is in recreating the wheel.

Think for a moment about what advantages data sharing, or data pooling, can bring. If financial institutions shared data they could better assess borrower risks and better protect themselves against fraud. Indeed, the collective effort to prevent theft would be infinitely stronger than what any one bank can muster.

The same holds true for any industry plagued with common threats or obstacles. The combined knowledge is far superior to the siloed knowledge of individual companies.

Further society at large can benefit exponentially from shared data in much the same way that public education, that is the widespread dissemination of information, improves the condition of mankind from the small community to the larger global level.

And yet…

"Capital is a big problem in funding such sharing and so is overcoming the mindset of protecting a competitive edge," said Robert Kirkpatrick, director of Global Pulse in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General United Nations, at a media luncheon at Strata.

UN Global Pulse is "an innovation initiative of the Secretary-General harnessing big data and real-time analytics for international development and crisis resilience."

"Some companies are willing to share data if it's scrubbed first, others are okay with sharing if it is further randomized so no one can tell who is who's customer," Kirkpatrick continued. "Some are ok with sharing with a third party, such as us, but not directly with competitors. Others aren't interested in sharing at all."

Still, some efforts at sharing knowledge, i.e. data, are underway.  

UN Global Pulse thinks of this as data philanthropy. "We're interested in exploring how data can be shared," Kirkpatrick said. "Perhaps through some combination of open commons, closed commons and semi-closed commons pools. There is some digital exhaust that we can use as proxies but although abundant it is not as abundant as shared data would be."

Organizations need to understand that sharing data does not eliminate competitive edge--it hones it. In the same way as any two equally educated professional peers in any discipline can produce drastically different outcomes, so too can companies who have access to the same exact data at the outset.

Hold some data back if you really must, but look for ways to exchange or share as much data as you can if your end goal is something other than counting your own data points. 

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