The Data Supply Chain will become the greatest enabler or inhibitor of a cognitive world.

“Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink”, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

While Coleridge was referring to the trauma of a long sea voyage, this is a good analogy for the trauma of an analytics project. Everyone tells us that we are drowning in data, and yet we can never seem to find the data we need; either it’s not being collected or its being collected but its not consumable, we don’t have access, it’s missing stuff, or we just can’t find it. The end result is the same… data starvation.

This challenge of connecting data to analysis, the proverbial dating agency for data, brought me back to the famous quote from IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty; “Data will be the natural resource of the 21st century” and some of its implications.

As with any natural resource its value depends wholy on our ability to cost-effectively harvest, process and ultimately distribute it. There is no point in having the most valuable resource in the world if you can’t get it out of the ground and to the people who need it. The data supply chain will become the greatest enabler or inhibitor of a cognitive world.

As the data supply chain improves and its easier for companies to participate, I anticipate that more and more companies will begin to appreciate the inherent value in their data and will want to explore ways that they can effectively monetize that value. You don’t have to be a data company to have data (or insight) that could be valuable for a variety of applications; why shouldn’t every company be able to leverage their own natural data resource for maximum value? To realize this the data supply chain would need to identify demand (what data analyzers are looking for or analysis algorithms are missing), supply (who could potentially have data to meet the demand), and transaction support (buy/sell/loan/access-to/…).

As more and more of our lives are captured in digital, the user data that is generated is becoming increasingly valuable and in many cases is becoming an effective currency; “If you aren’t paying for the product, then you are the product”. I predict that over time individuals will want greater control of their own natural resource, a movement that is getting support from many global thought leaders such as Tim Berners-Lee and his Solid project. Individuals, and not just corporations, will become active participants in the data supply chain. Now this may be wishful thinking on my part but, if the United Nations can declare that “Internet access is a basic human right” then I would argue that in a knowledge economy analytics is also a basic human right and not just a right that companies have; particularly since it will increasingly become the lens through which we consume information.

Over the last few years we’ve seen the emergence of “the sharing economy”, a socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human, physical and intellectual resources, fundamentally change our definition of an economic transaction. It has also changed an individual’s economic participation where we can now trade resources that we were never able to trade before. And isn’t our digital footprint, our user data, not just another resource we should be able to trade if we want to. I anticipate that we will see data and analytics platforms emerge that allow frictionless sharing and monetization of data resources, for individuals and not just companies.

And finally, you can’t write a technology blog post these days without mentioning blockchain so here goes :-) If we did have a global data supply chain in which anyone could participate, individual, corporation, or government, just imagine the scale and complexity of transactions. If I just look to my mobile phone alone, I am trading my data with dozens of companies through a variety of different agreements; companies who in turn may be sharing my data with other corporations. Could blockchain help to provide the type of transparency, traceability, control, compliance, and audit needed to realize a global data supply chain?

Bringing myself back to earth, the point I was trying to make, albeit circuitously, is that the Data Supply Chain will become the greatest enabler or inhibitor of a cognitive world and at the heart of this will be the data exchange or data marketplace which will allow data to find analysis and analysis to find business problem, and vice-versa.

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