How Important is Data for Global Pandemics?

By Yotam Gutman, Marketing Director at SentinelOne

Lt. Commander (Ret.) Israel Navy, Yotam Gutman has filled several operational, technical and business positions at defense, HLS, Intelligence and cybersecurity companies, and provided consulting services for numerous others. Yotam joined SentinelOne 6 months ago to oversee local marketing activities in Israel and contribute to the global content marketing team. Yotam founded and manages the Cybersecurity Marketing Professionals Community, which includes over 300 marketing professionals from more than 170 cyber companies. Yotam was chosen as one of the 5 Security Influencers to Follow on LinkedIn.

The global Covid-19 pandemic has undermined the global supply chain in the most abrupt and violent manner. Unlike disruptions resulting from regional events (driven by war, unrest or extreme weather), this disturbance is both global as well as extremely disruptive. Its impact is already being felt by the microchip and automotive industries and will likely affect most manufacturing and retail sectors in the coming months. It is clear that in the rush to create efficient and affordable global supply chains, our world has become vulnerable to a dangerous extent, where a pandemic in one country can halt production lines and supply chains across the globe.

In the aftermath, enterprises will have to rethink this. It is likely that they will re-build these supply chains with redundancies and robustness in mind; by shortening supply routes, diversifying their supplier base and by sourcing some goods and products locally. But the lessons of the Coronavirus impact on supply chains shouldn’t be limited to physical products and resources. It can be applied to data as well.

Software is the New Ship, Data is the New Gold

The colonial empires of the past have competed for control of resources and the distribution finished goods. Even the transition to the industrial and then the technology era, has not changed the fact that whoever controlled the resources and the distribution means was king.

Finished products became the most important aspect of the global economy: cars, TVs, clothes and much more. Whoever figured out how to build products and get them to market in the cheapest way has always been hugely successful. This has also meant that international cooperation was required. In order to facilitate procurement, shipment and distribution, global commercial and legal mechanisms were put in place.

A manufacturer in the UK, who places an order at a factory in China, is fairly certain they will receive the said goods. This is possible because of international commerce, legal, shipping and tax agreements and regulations that are in place and have been working quite well for the past two decades, at least enough to instil confidence in this system.

However, there is one sector that challenges this paradigm (even before the times of coronavirus), the Technology sector and particularly the software industry. Software does not require physical resources and infrastructure or metal deposits. It does not require ships and planes for distribution (at least not since the internet has matured.) As Marc Andreesen said: “Software is eating the world.”

Software companies like Salesforce, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Alibaba have grown exponentially in the past decade, surpassing traditional companies and establishing an extremely short, effective supply chain from their servers to our laptops and smartphones. And now that software firmly in place, and used by at least half of the world’s population (the current number of smartphone users in the world today is 3.5 billion, and this means 45.04% of the world’s population owns a smartphone) it serves as the shipping lane of the past.

Software (and the internet infrastructure that carries it) is used to create content, interact with one another and consume physical goods. It also creates a wealth of data, which, in turn, is worth more than gold.

Companies like Google and Facebook have built ingenious search tools and social media interaction platforms, and have been giving us all the opportunity to use these for free, so long as they get to keep the data. They analyse it, sell and utilise it to make their services more appealing, leading to us using them more and generating ever more valuable data.

A Supply Chain of Data

Software-driven Data has various non-commercial uses too. It can help us identify outbreaks, create more accurate infection models and produce a cure and vaccine sooner. Data helps healthcare officials make informed decisions about the best course of treatment and helps decision makers decide when it is for example, time for lockdown and when to allow people back outside.

But, just like the supply chains of the cold-war era (pre-globalisation), the supply and flow of data is restricted by several factors. To make our world safer and better-equipped to respond to events such as the coronavirus outbreak, we should strive to remove and solve restrictions that come with data handling.

These include (but are not limited to)

  • Authentication and Security: Security is crucial to the friction-less flow of data. No one wants to send precious data across the globe only to see it stolen and used by someone else. Similarly, just as each ship carries cargo, with each container sealed and carrying documents detailing the content, so too, should the data transferred have an authentication mechanism to ensure that no one has ‘messed’ with the content
  • Legal Rights: The legal rights of shipowners and cargo owners have been established many centuries ago, including the necessary insurance in cases of loss. Similar legal rights should be enacted for the use of data, so that owners are rewarded for quality data (unless, of course, they decide to provide it for free)
  • Political Boundaries: Although software is global, the internet is still governed by nation states. They usually don’t interfere with internet traffic per se, but they often do limit the flow of data. It is unclear for example, precisely how many sick and recovering people there are around the world. Some of this is due to poor data collection by different counties, other to more stringent control of some countries’ data

Data Alone Can’t Cure Us

Data will not cure us, but it will facilitate finding a cure. The faster we all recognise the value of data and work to facilitate its flow and use, the faster we can return to normal. And just maybe, when this is all behind us, the global data supply chain will break from its shackles and become a truly global force for the good of all mankind.