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Davos 2011: Data, the new asset class

February 1st, 2011 |  Published in Big Data, Economics, finance and the financial markets

1 February 2011 – Every few years, courtesy of an IP client, I receive a 1-2 day pass to attend Davos.   I pay my own travel/lodging and for my security pass but entrance fees and “imbibements” are covered by my client.  I do not go every year it is offered because it usually hits right before FutureMed which is a  technology event I try to attend.  But this year I attended because there was particular focus on one area I follow very closely:  data, the new asset class.

Ah, such a wonder.  Globalization’s elite converging in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.  And a much cheerier bunch than a year ago.  As my hosts proclaimed, 48% of the CEOs they polled were “very confident” of growth in the next 12 months, up from 31% a year ago.  “CEOs have emerged from the bunker mentality of surviving the recession”.  They determined to take advantage of better global economic conditions and increased customer demands.”

I attended one of the “overview” sessions … every year has a theme and this year’s theme was the “new reality” as the world’s economies rebuild in the wake of the global financial crisis … on the world economy.  But my focus was on the data sessions (I did catch a glimpse of Sergey Brin but missed his panel).  The points of these sessions were this:

We are moving/having moved towards a “Web of the world” in which mobile communications, social technologies and sensors are connecting people, the Internet and the physical world into one interconnected network.  Data records are collected on who we are, who we know, where we are, where we have been and where we plan to go.  Mining and analysing this data give us the ability to understand and even predict where humans focus their attention opportunity will resemble a living entity and will require new ways of adapting and responding.  This personal data – digital data created by and about people – is generating a new wave of opportunity for economic and societal value creation. The types, quantity and value of personal data being collected are vast: our profiles and demographic data from bank accounts to medical records to employment data. Our Web searches and sites visited, including our likes and dislikes and purchase histories. Our tweets, texts, emails, phone calls, photos and videos as well as the coordinates of our real-world locations. The list continues to grow.

All manner of firms collect and use this data to support individualized service-delivery business models that can be monetized.  Governments employ personal data to provide critical public services more efficiently and effectively.  Researchers accelerate the development of new drugs and treatment protocols. End users benefit from free, personalized consumer experiences such as Internet search, social networking or buying recommendations.

And that is just the beginning.  Increasing the control that individuals have over the manner in which their personal data is collected, managed and shared will spur a host of new services and applications.   As some described it at Davos, personal data will be the new “oil” – a valuable resource of the 21st century.  Personal data is the new oil of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world.  It will emerge as a new asset class touching all aspects of society.

At its core, personal data represents a post-industrial opportunity. It has unprecedented complexity, velocity and global reach. Utilising a ubiquitous communications infrastructure, the personal data opportunity will emerge in a world where nearly everyone and everything are connected in real time. That will require a highly reliable, secure and available infrastructure at its core and robust innovation at the edge.  Stakeholders will need to embrace the uncertainty, ambiguity and risk of an emerging ecosystem.

As personal data increasingly becomes a critical source of innovation and value, business boundaries are being redrawn.  Profit pools, too, are shifting towards companies that automate and mine the vast amounts of data we continue to generate.   Far from certain, however, is how much value will ultimately be created, and who will gain from it.  The underlying regulatory, business and technological issues are highly complex, interdependent and ever changing.

The rapid rate of technological change and commercialization in using personal data is undermining end user confidence and trust.  Tensions are rising. Concerns about the misuse of personal data continue to grow.  Also mounting is a general public unease about what “they” know about us.  Fundamental questions about privacy, property, global governance, human rights – essentially around who should benefit from the products and services built upon personal data – are major uncertainties shaping the opportunity.

Yes, a tremendous amount of issues and information covered.  I was able to cram in 4 sessions in all.  Let me end with some interesting graphics presented at several sessions, and a quick word on “Blue Button:





Much has been written about health records and data privacy, one of the key concerns.  At Davos I learned about the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services “Blue Button” initiative for how to handle such personal data and I was very much impressed.

It’s a Web-based feature that allows patients easily to down load all their historical health information from one secure location and then share it with healthcare providers, caregivers and others they trust – something that wasn’t possible before.

The service is innovative in many ways.  First, it allows Medicare beneficiaries to access their medical histories from various databases and compile sources into one place (e.g., test results, emergency contact
information, family health history, military health history and other health-related information).

Second, the service provides the information in a very convenient and transportable format (ASCII text file). That allows it to be shared seamlessly with virtually any healthcare or insurance provider.

Finally, Blue Button fully empowers the end user: patients are given control over how their information is shared and distributed.  That allows them to be more proactive about – and have more insight into the medical treatments that they need.

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"The mind that lies fallow but a single day sprouts up follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture."
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