Is data the new oil?


"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." -Upton Sinclair

In The Data Asset, Tony Fisher writes about how organizations need to start thinking very differently about their data. It's a business asset, pure and simple - and a very valuable one at that.

Many people will invariably have a tough time getting their arms around this. To help make it more understandable, consider this question: What type of existing asset does it most mimic?

How about oil?

In November 2006, Michael Palmer wrote an interesting blog post titled “Data is the New Oil.” According to Palmer, "data is just like crude. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used. It has to be changed into gas, plastic, chemicals, etc., to create a valuable entity that drives profitable activity; so must data be broken down, analyzed for it to have value."


Data: A Means to an End; Not the End Itself

Data (big or otherwise) is merely a means to an end. In this way, it's similar to MDM, data governance and other data-related endeavors. Smart companies are realizing that the ultimate goal is not to store as much data as possible - or even to provide meaningful analytics. Rather, data needs to advance some other larger business objective, such as increased sales, lower employee turnover, faster time-to-market and the like.

Still, I'm not completely enamored with the "data is oil" analogy. I'm no geologist, but I understand that there's a finite supply of petroleum out there. (In turn, this is spurring much-needed innovation in the auto industry, but I digress.) Bottom line: While we can drill oceans in search of existing oil reserves, we can't manufacture oil from scratch. If we could, then our world would be very, very different.

Contrast the burning plank of petroleum on this planet with data. We've seen the amount of data generated and available explode over the last five years with no end in sight. I've even had to learn about yottabytes. I'm not sure of very many things these days, but I know there will be more data on the Web tomorrow than there was yesterday.

Simon Says

If the vast majority of cars didn't require gas, then countries wouldn't fight wars over oil. There would just be no point. By the same token, organizations that don't embrace data-oriented management and analytics probably don't see the value in Big Data. Upton Sinclair's words are as true now as they were when he said them decades ago.


What say you?

Tags analytics

About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.


  1. Data is not the new oil. Data has a characteristic that oil does not - it is reusable. Once crude is transformed it can't really be transformed back to crude and once it is used, it's gone - to your point crude oil is a non-renewable resource.

    Data has more similar characteristics to cash that to oil. Cash can be transformed into many assets. And in economic terms using cash CREATES new cash. It's prorogation limited only by complex sets of rules and policies.

    Governance over cash is a well defined, disciplined practice. Most organizations know within a reasonable margin of error where all their cash is at any given time, how it is being transformed into value AND what value it generates from the transformed cash.

    Can we say the same for our data?

Leave A Reply

Back to Top