Forget Gold, DATA Is The 21st Century’s Raw Material

“Data is the 21st century’s raw material” – this is what  Francis Maude (UK Minister for Cabinet Office and Paymaster General) said in describing the value of data in inspiring innovation and economic growth.

He was right, especially when one thinks of the fact that in the last few years we’ve seen a number of companies that are purely built on data. In May 2015, the Economist magazine featured an article that highlighted the impact of data in the agricultural sector. In the same article, it mentioned an agricultural data company that was acquired for $1 billion – one of the biggest takeovers of a data firm yet seen.

This company was formed in 2006 by two former Google employees who used data to setup it up. The company used remote sensing and other cartographic techniques to map every field in America (all 25m of them) and superimpose on that all the climate information that it could find. By 2010, its database contained 150 billion soil observations and 10 trillion weather simulation points.

The company planned to use this data to sell crop insurance. When it was bought, it was used to produce a map of America which says which seed grows best in which field, under what conditions.

This company used data that it sourced itself through mapping and Open data that it sourced from a government entity that hosts climate information.

This is just an illustration of what is possible with data, especially, when governments embrace Open Data.

The City of Cape Town understands this fact. Recently, the City introduced an Open Data policy which was aimed at governing how data is accessed in the City of Cape Town.

Soon thereafter, the municipality launched the Open Data portal which was designed to serve as a platform for accessing municipal data.

All of these steps by the City of Cape Town are commendable; however, more needs to be done.

A closer scrutiny of the data released shows that not much can be done with the data at least in its current format, structure and quality.

The City of Cape Town needs to invest more resources in this initiative if it really wants to drive economic growth in the region. Other municipalities in South Africa also need to begin the process of embracing Open Data.

The UK Government has been a leader in embracing Open Data through its flagship Open data portal  ( So far, it has released more than 9,000 datasets to cover health, education, transport, crime and justice. This data has been instrumental in driving the boom in the startup eco-system in the region.

The lesson here is simple: governments needs to work closer with business to enable access to data to drive innovation and economic growth.



This is the first post that highlights the value of data in driving innovation and economic growth. These posts are designed to inspire a discussion between government and business about open data and economy.