Information will be the oil of the 21st Century

I was at the IBM Smarter Business Forum 2011 seminar yesterday. The forum focused on business intelligence, which is basically a term for managing the information in your business. Here I have written some thoughts from the seminar.

The current business intelligence solutions enable the storing of large amounts of information efficiently. This makes reporting more easier and cheaper. You can search large amounts of data fast and focus even on small details. What has changed from past is that data can have even minor details, everybody can have the possibility to use the data and data can be collected more often than earlier. Earlier, there was information, but it cost as it has to be collected or processed manually. Nowadays information could be used in every level in the business. The information can be used for smallest detail of the business, e.g. finding the characteristics of single customer and giving him a personalized quote. The different systems can be adjusted differently, based on their own data. Risk management can apply more data and give more accurate information, e.g. an information system could give the answer to the following question: based on the usage history which one of the machines should be have maintenance next. However, although this all is possible, the actual solutions are still rare.

During the seminar, IBM’s Juha Teljo cited two times this famous quote from the leading IT research company Gartner: “Information will be the oil of the 21st Century”. The quote wasn’t  analyzed more deeply, but I try to do it here. Oil has been the very critical in the 20th Century. People and countries needed it. There have been wars that were caused because of oil and in future we can have wars because of information. But the more important thing is that oil has enabled many things, like cars and cheap energy. In future and now, information will enable lots of things and it makes things more efficient.

However, information is different to oil. You have to find or buy the relevant information. In many case the relevant information is there, but it costs something to get it. In other cases, you even have the information but you have to process it before using. The cost of information is sometimes hard to calculate. The same thing is with the value of information. However, when you have information, one important thing is that it is easy to copy. Copying can multiply the value of information, but it typically can be used only once. Once information has been gotten, it has no value for the user anymore.