The gold rush is on again, and once again it is centerd on the American West. The original gold rush started at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma. This time round, it is starting in Silicon Valley, and you will need more than a pan and a slice of luck to find your fortune.

With the big data revolution showing no signs of slowing down, many companies – and more than a few governments - are recognising that it is data itself that will drive the tech products of tomorrow, and are hoovering up vast amounts of the stuff. The monetizing of this data is, for some, becoming a 21st-century gold rush.

sutters mill library of congress wikipedia
Sutters Mill

Data is currency

Data driven products are, of course, nothing new. One of the more straightforward ways that data has been collected and sold is through health monitoring products, with companies like Fitbit and Jawbone selling devices that track everything from your heart rate to how many steps you take each day. You pay a one-off fee for your wearable device, and you get to see all your own health data. Simple.

Increasingly though, companies are coming up with more ingenious ways to use data to provide services. Now the data itself is of value, rather than the product.

Witness the senior citizen monitoring system, which collects data from the homes of your loved ones and uses algorithms to keep you informed of any problems that might be about to arise, such as erratic behaviour or changes in sleep patterns.

That sort of data surveillance may be a little too Orwellian for some, but it is behind the scenes that data services are really coming into their own. These are not gimmicky products, but instead offer serious data aids and solutions to existing businesses.

While some will hoard their data in a giant digital bin, the more progressive are beginning to see the benefits of data sharing

For example, an increasing number of companies offer call center CRM services, whereby data on a particular customer is centralized and presented to the operative as they are on the call, thereby helping to provide the service or make the sale. Nest, with its smart home thermostat, collects the data from homes which can then be de-personalized and trends analysed to help manage national electricity and gas requirements. The UK’s National Grid is already beginning to make use of ‘smart energy’ by turning some hotel aircon off for short, unnoticeable periods during peak times. For all of these companies, the commodity they trade in is pure data, applied creatively and effectively.

As an illustration of how data is increasingly seen as a form of currency, NuTonomy the company testing autonomous cars in Singapore is not charging a fee for the journeys. It is currently operating six taxis and is gathering data which it says will be far more valuable in future development than any fares.

Ceche is king?

What price data, then? When cache is king how do we decide on a fair price for our bytes? Or any price at all? Some observers questioned the recent release of NHS data to Google Deepmind to aid with the development of its medical AI, Google might argue that the project could help save thousands, both in pounds and lives, but the question remains whether the publicly owned data is itself now of value, and should be treated as such by the governments that represent the citizens who generated it, and employ the public servants who recorded it.

Some are trying to make people more aware of this. Citizenme provides a personal data app, which allows users to take control of and monetize their data, and become aware of its importance and worth.

But whilst some will take to hoarding their data, perhaps in a giant digital bin à la Scrooge McDuck, the more progressive are beginning to see the benefits of data sharing. The idea of planes flying across Europe as ‘nodes in the sky’, where real time data can be readily and easily accessed by any interested stakeholders, is one that has been mooted by the aviation industry, and which could have far reaching benefits for safety, reliability and functionality. Perhaps, when the heady but selfish days of data acquisition have subsided, people will realise, like the thrifty McDuck’s namesake, that things really are better when you share.

Certainly, with this proliferation of data-reliant products and services, companies are facing increasing demands for speed, agility, and scalability to quickly access, share, transfer, and analyse massive amounts of data. Highly sophisticated and connected data centers are evolving around the world to cope with the increased data demand by offering more comprehensive solutions that can meet demands in connectivity along with high-performance computing and storage. Making the ‘digital data center’ a key part of data strategy is imperative for companies to continue to monetise data, and to participate in the new golden age of data.

Dale Green, associate marketing director at Digital Realty