Is Oil the New Data?

EDRM - Electronic Discovery Reference Model

EDRM - Electronic Discovery Reference Model

[Author: David R. Cohen]*

[Originally published 24 June 2022 on Reed Smith Viewpoints.]

Is Data the New Oil by David R. Cohen, drawing of oil rigs on top of the earth with data underneath

It was a pleasure to attend and present at the New Jersey ARMA INFORM Conference at Princeton University last week. Kudos to Ann Gorr, Jackie Cheslow, and all of the other conference organizers and presenters who helped to put together such a great conference.

With big data comes big risks—from data breaches, to data exploitation, to complying with privacy laws like the CCPA and GDPR.

David R. Cohen, Reed Smith

Several of the presentations, including the opening keynote, reminded us of the expression “data is the new oil.” Mathematician Clive Humby coined the phrase back in 2006. His point was that data was becoming the main fuel for our new “information economy” and the most valuable companies going forward will be those that own or control substantial amounts of useful data. That expression has been repeated many times since. But now, 16 years later, I am prompted to turn it around and ask “is oil the new data”? Consider:

  • Many companies that have been collecting data for years do not know how to monetize that data.
  • Artificial intelligence has not progressed as far or as fast as many predicted and practical applications are still quite limited. For example, in the e-discovery field, analytics were supposed to make human document review virtually obsolete by now, while in reality human review still predominates over predictive coding. Revolutionary advances are coming to the legal field—and almost every other field—but in the meantime we cannot ignore the practical realities of how things should continue to be done today.
  • With big data comes big risks—from data breaches, to data exploitation, to complying with privacy laws like the CCPA and GDPR.
  • One need only stop at gas pump to see that, at least for today, petroleum is more valuable than ever.

One example of technological advances noted at the conference was that Swiss researcher Thomas Keller and his team were recently able to use new computing power to add 12.8 trillion new digits to pi. Very impressive! But how is that useful to you or me or our employers today?

Even those of us who love new technology must be careful not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Lots of amazing innovations are coming, but most of them are not here yet. It is useful—even essential—to keep informed about the technology that is coming down the pike, but in the meantime we cannot stop traveling down that pike, or get too distracted from the realities of what we need to keep doing the old-fashioned way!

*Reed Smith

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