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Data as Currency: Or Why Your Balance Sheet Needs Another Column

big data as currencyWe are at the brink of a new era in which data, generated by humans and digital devices large and small, has become our new currency. If you haven’t been affected by this changing landscape or simply don’t believe it, consider this:

"WhatsApp is on a path to connect one billion people. The services that reach that milestone are all incredibly valuable," said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO in a statement following the social media network’s $19 billion buy-out of said app.

Zuckerberg isn't simply talking about a place where one billion people collectively spend time. He's talking about the data points those one billion people can give him, and the amount of money he can generate by monetizing the insights that data will provide.

What he is talking about is big data — and the insanely high value proposition that comes with it.

What an Individual's Data Is Worth

That $19 billion acquisition heard round the world yielded about $35 per user in value, and you can bet that will be a number in Facebook's books at the end of this quarter. What’s more, when the value of those users increases, so will Facebook’s net gain, and ultimately the company’s bottom line.

What's happening here is simple: users are trading their digital data for access to applications and sites offering an improved customer experience – even if that simply means a platform where all their friends are too. Or in WhatsApp case, an experience sans ads. 

And while the consensus is still out on how much an individual’s digital data is worth, it falls somewhere between $8 per month and $35 per month. In other words, Facebook just bought what Zuckerberg believes will eventually be one billion data points for one heck of a deal.

Big Data, Big Companies, Big ROI

Of course, big data isn't limited to social media networks. Data points exist along the lines of on-site action analytics, cost per click, credit card purchases and now wearable tech that can capture both everything you see and everything you can’t (read: your health) via something as simple as a contact lens.

Companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft and  Oracle (who just bought BlueKai) are doubling down on user data – and every CEO would be smart to follow their lead. 

Luckily, you don't have to buy an app for nearly $20 billion to make big data work so well for you that it carves out it’s own cell in your financial spreadsheets. What companies do need is to understand how to make their data points, from both first and third parties, lead them in the direction of the biggest profit.

Data is an asset, just like inventory, cash in the bank and any other positive balance sheet item. Data intelligence, then, or the ability to connect dots and take action based on visualized data, is akin to investment banking. There is one key difference though: where investment banking knowledge has long been segmented to a particular team or industry, whole companies need data intelligence -- from stockholders to the intern.

Facebook gets this, and it's why everyone from Zuckerberg, who easily saw the value in WhatsApp, to the advertising team, which easily finds untapped segments brands can target to increase reach and brand awareness, is versed in data intelligence.

Smart Data Makes Smart Business 

Big data is our new currency, but unlike the sites that house the billions of bytes you might want to tap, it is smart data that makes small businesses and startups successful. With smart data, employees versed in data intelligence can pinpoint sponsors they know fans already love (and thus get higher effective CPMs), fill seats at an event (and find the audience who will pay premium dollar for those seats) and ultimately build out a solid business strategy with smart data as the crucial cornerstone.

See, big data is like the classic "you can bring the horse to water, but you can’t make him drink" analogy -- except big data is the water, and your brand is the horse. 

Decide to drink.

(Big Data / shutterstock)

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