Is Big Data the new PC or the new oil?

The New York Times has a piece on this McKinsey report here on how many statisticians and data analysts the US is going to need to keep up with "business data that double every 1.2 years".

While it makes predictions on how much US healthcare could save – $300 billion – and how much retailers could improve their profit margins – 60 per cent – it does caution:

"It will take years, they say, before the gains show up in the economic statistics, just as it did for computers to prove they were engines of productivity."  

Meanwhile, Michael Fertik, CEO of, calls personal data the “new oil” here; Gerd Leonhard, a "media futurist" says "all this data is the new oil of today" here; and this guy says it here.

At least the first two seem to be based on this World Economic Forum report [PDF].

My first reaction is that any time loads of people suddenly tune in to the same soundbite and start rebroadcasting it, I am instantly suspicious.
Secondly, I'm not sure "the new oil" is the most thought-through business metaphor in a world of Middle East wars, rising petrol prices, Gulf of Mexico spills and the horrendous mess "the old oil" has made of Nigeria. The new goldrush may be closer to the mark, but may sound a bit too bubble-like on the day LinkedIn floated for nearly $9 billion.

Either way, the notion that statisticians will be in demand to mine this new resource is probably a good thing – they get a bad rap.

Tom: It's a lovely day for a launch, here, live at Cape Canaveral, at
the lower end of the Florida Peninsula, and the purpose of
today's mission is truly, really electrifying.
Man 2: That's correct, Tom. The lion's share of this flight will be
devoted to the study of the effects of weightlessness on tiny
Tom: Unbelievable, and just imagine the logistics of weightlessness.
And of course, this could have literally millions of applications
here on Earth — everything from watchmaking to watch repair.
Homer: Boring.

Tom: Now let's look at the crew a little.
Man 2: They're a colorful bunch. They've been dubbed "the Three
Musketeers". Heh heh heh —
Tom: And we laugh legitimately. There's a mathematician, a different kind of mathematician, and a statistician. 

And they're possibly the only people who could tell us we are in the middle of a new fad in business and a new bubble in social media. 


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