Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab.

CAPE TOWN - There's a new economy that is emerging, which is inspired by the use of technology. 

This economy is known as the data economy. This week it was under a microscope at the International Master Data Quality Conference (IMDQ) hosted by Pilog - a global master data quality company that originates from South Africa. The conference outlined the importance of data and its quality. 

The data economy has an impact on every aspect of our lives and it will continue to have greater impact. Data is currently the basis upon which industry decisions are based, it is what progress or lack thereof should be measured upon and lastly data will become a source of jobs in the data economy.

Data for food security

Data is important across sectors of the economy. In the agricultural sector it makes a difference between enabling people to have food on the table or not.

According to AgriSA, 44percent of fruit and vegetables are wasted in South Africa and most of it before it reaches the supermarket shelves.

At the same time some citizens in the country go to bed without a meal. Using data in the agricultural sector can alleviate such wastage by sounding alarm bells early to prevent the wastage. The quality of such data will also impact on better planning for food security in the country.

This is one example of the importance of data in one sector of the economy. It has a direct impact on peoples lives.

The importance of data in the agricultural sector has inspired the use of technology such as drones to be sensors to monitor the process of growth in farms to improve productivity.

The value of data in various sectors of the economy is also giving rise to new roles that are focused on data. One such role is the chief data officer.

New role

The chief data officer has an important role to ensure that companies can derive value from the data economy.

Dr John Talburt, an internationally recognised academic in the data quality field, spoke about the importance of the chief data officer (CDO) in the data economy.

He highlighted the fact that the CDO has the responsibility to maximise the value of the organisation’s information assets by monetising them, developing the data strategy and taking care of data quality, data governance and ensuring that data analytics programmes are implemented within an organisation.

He went on to say that the CDO will play an integral role in representing business (on data matters) to the information technology part of the organisation.

In terms of the law this role will become critical within a business to meet the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia) requirements which is another element of enabling the data economy within the country.

The emergence of the data economy is not immune to abuse by elements of society with ulterior motives.

The Word Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016 indicated that cybercrime alone cost the global economy $445billion (R5.91trillion).

In South Africa it is estimated that the value of cybercrime is -0.14percent of gross domestic product, (McAfee, June 2014). This has prompted legislators to develop a legal framework that will govern the data economy. In South Africa that process has led to the development of the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013.

The need for drafting such a law has been inspired by the Section 14 of the Constitution, which highlights the right to privacy. This part of the Constitution stands for the protection against unlawful collection, retention, dissemination and use of personal information.

It leaves the obligation on the state to protect, promote and fulfil rights.

At the same time it is designed to ensure the free flow of information.

The Popia gives effect to right to privacy and regulates processing in line with international standards. It provides remedies for people to protect personal info.

Comments on draft

It is hoped that this law will start operating in early 2018. Currently there’s a process to allow comments on the draft regulation before November 7, 2017.

The drafting of this piece of legislation shows the seriousness with which the government is taking the data economy in South Africa. The importance of data within the government was also highlighted by a presentation on how data can be useful in measuring the National Development Plan (NDP).

This column recently mentioned the value of data in measuring progress of the NDP. At the IMDQ it was emphasised that to some extent the poor quality of data that people have about the progress effected by the government is also part of the reason for the high number of protests in South Africa.

Misinformation about when services will be offered to the public makes a huge difference. Quality government data and its communication will make a huge difference in enabling the public to know how factual the country is in implementing the NDP.

The use of data for measuring the NDP will require changes that will allow the government to derive value from data, but also enable public awareness about its programmes.

Economy

At this point in time there’s no doubt that data has important societal value. The challenge currently is that data is not seen as an important asset by organisations in South Africa.

This is seen in the absence of data in the balance sheet. It is not yet seen as something that has economic value.

The rise of data in the global economy, as seen in the valuation of many technology companies that have huge valuations just based on their data, should prompt a serious change in how data and information is perceived.

There’s a serious need for the information economy to be taken seriously as a discipline in terms of how data and information is valued. This approach will lead to better and improved GDP. It will shine a spotlight on unrecorded value of information and highlight its value.

* The Infonomist is working towards showcasing the value of data in Africa and championing the cause of the information economy within the continent.

Wesley Diphoko is the Head of Independent Media’s Digital Lab, and founder of Kaya Labs.

-BUSINESS REPORT