A piece about Scottish policy on data standards mentions how “futurist thinkers see data as the new oil”. As North Sea oil has long been a touchstone in discussions of Scotland's potential wealth as an independent nation, this implies quite a big claim. However, Dermot Joyce's article goes on to give examples of how data standards can improve efficiency and effectiveness in public services.
This is an anti-climax. For a minute, I thought Scottish data would somehow prove to be a great export, like malt whisky. Actually, the only “national” data set I can think of with potential commercial uses is the Icelandic genome. The article does not have much to say about how nationally applied data standards could aid the software or services industries of the nation which promotes them.
But I'd like to switch things around a little. Data may not necessarily be oil; but data standards are oil. Not the kind of oil you burn, but the oil you use to lubricate mechanisms. If, as the economist Ronald Coase said, inefficiencies like information search costs are the sand in the engine, then data standards are the engine oil.
Sure, data standards are absolutely vital to modern public services. They are also key to the development of knowledge industries. If you own or create potentially valuable data, then data standards will make that data usable. But just having data standards doesn't mean you automatically have data that's valuable to anyone else. It doesn't work that way.
Oil is oil. Data is what you make of it.
Meanwhile in Qatar, a railroad engineering software company is helping to build the Qatar Building Information Modelling (QBIM). All the data generated in its studies will be handed over to the customer and used to help populate this model. The engineers “hope they [the Qataris] create a neutral standard”. If they do, then they will really have created an important national asset. Data Smart Nation