Data is the most valuable non-consumable asset

IT IS to state the obvious to say that 2020 has been an extraordinary year. There is no nook or cranny of our personal or professional lives that has not been affected in some way by the global pandemic. This is a year that future generations will study in their history books.

And it is against this backdrop that we reflect on the yearas it comes to an end and look ahead to 2021.

It has become a bit of a cliché to talk of data as the new oil. This description was coined some years ago to illustrate how valuable data was becoming and how increasingly central it now is to economic growth and prosperity and was extremely effective in doing so. Anyone left in any doubt about the role data plays should look up the world’s most valuable companies. Oh, and when you look that up, it will probably be on a search engine which will then have a record of the fact that you looked, as well as a record of anything else you have browsed, purchased, read, downloaded, etc. online. This, in turn, will help those most valuable companies retain their titles.

The irony is not lost on me.

But as we speed into the fourth industrial revolution, one which is blurring the boundaries between the physical and the digital with advances in the internet of things, artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing etc., comparing data with oil no longer feels quite right.

Oil is finite and loses its value once used; data can be used again, and again, and again. It can also be created and replicated with ease.

Oil’s scarcity makes it valuable. The exponential growth of data makes it valuable.

But let’s not get hung up on analogies. Of course, they can be helpful to pique our attention and focus our minds at a time when attention and focus is often in short supply, and that is to be welcomed. But once we have taken the time to give this our attention, what next?

You are not alone if you feel that the technological trajectory we are on is entirely out of our control; that we are passengers rather than drivers in this change. Feeling disempowered makes it more likely that we will opt out of even trying to ask any questions or make the decisions that we need to be making.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it is how responsive, resilient and flexible we can be in the face of huge challenges. During this time, despite the dreadful impact the crisis has had on certain individuals and sectors, the Bailiwick has continued to function effectively and efficiently in many areas. As we begin to see a glimmer of hope on the horizon, it is essential that we are as strongly positioned as possible for the global recovery. Whatever your sector or profession, data matters to you and it matters for our future.

One of the challenges of data protection regulation is that it is viewed as a set of rules imposed on businesses and organisations by an external body. I want to challenge that. Data may not be oil, but it does have value. Let’s exhaust the analogy completely – imagine your business sells oil. You will want to keep the oil from being lost, stolen or otherwise compromised because it has value. The motivation does not come from an external body, it comes from you wanting your organisation to be successful.

I would like us to start to reconceptualise the regulation of data with that in mind – that you are motivated to look after it because it is in your interests to do so, not because someone external to your organisation tells you to.

We want the Bailiwick economy to get through these difficult times and be in a position to harness future opportunities and innovations. This in turn means that we cannot avoid discussions around data. It is simply a matter of fact that data is the most valuable non-consumable asset any business will have.

Looking to the future for yourself, your business and our Bailiwick – take a moment to reflect on how important data is in your own life, reflecting too on how you as an individual and as an organisation approach the area of data governance. Do you take an interest? Do you value those people whose job it is to ensure compliance? Do you commit to high standards visibly and from the top of the organisation? Do you respect those people whose data you have in your care?

How you (and your organisation) respond to these simple questions matters and if you don’t like the answers, then try to be the change.

We need to stop being passengers, and start being the crew. Where we go and how we get there is ours to determine. We all have an opportunity to make a difference to how the Bailiwick approaches its compliance responsibilities and equally what its reputation is around data.

Effective regulation is not about burdening business, it is the key to enabling innovation and progress to flourish in a way that has the trust and confidence of wider society. The value of us getting it right lies in the rewards it yields. Data protection compliance and best practice is a means by which organisations and jurisdictions can differentiate themselves.

In demonstrating our capabilities through genuine engagement, we can earn the trust and confidence which is so critical for healthy and functioning democracies and economies. That is not a burden, it is a privilege.

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