Data Is Not A Commodity

A common refrain among the digerati is that data is a commodity but insight is not. Or wisdom, or judgment — insert your favorite word for good thinking.

It’s true that good thinking is in short supply. That’s why there are escape handles in the trunks of rental cars.

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And why Napoleon got his hat handed to him at Waterloo.

But it’s not true that data is a commodity. Yes, there’s a lot of it, which often correlates with commoditization. But data lacks a key attribute of actual commodities — fungibility. You can’t substitute one piece of data for another because they carry different information.

For example, if I ask you what time Mad Max: Fury Road is playing tonight at your favorite movie theater. Only showtime data will answer that question. The 98% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes or the 89% at Metacritic won’t do it. In fact, those can’t even be substituted for each other.

The non-fungibility of data raises the competitive stakes at companies race to digitize and datafy the key value-creating activities in their industries. Because, while there may be a lot of data out there, the vast majority of it is unique. And if you’re the one to capture it, it’s yours and your rivals would have to turn back time to get it.

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