If data is the new oil, what price trust?

Martin Banks Profile picture for user mbanks May 23, 2018
Martin Banks spins his own thesis on the coming together of data-as-oil and the core tenets of trust.

Resource extraction - oil
A chance to play catch-up on Einstein, Salesforce’s AI play, which came my way at the London stop-over of the firm’s World Tour last week, took a slightly different turn from the one expected during a meeting with Marco Casalaina, Vice President of Product Management for Einstein.

Salesforce’s trust philosophy is one to be lauded abroad, one to be copied by all in businesses, and one which is so patently and enthusiastically ignored by so many company managements. Salesforce makes much of  pitching to be a business that its customers and partners can work with on the basis of a real trust, that it will be as good as its word. It also expects no less from its channel partners in their own dealings with customers. And of course there is always hope that the customers will be just a trustworthy in return.

But then there’s another popular concept -  data as ‘the new oil’.

In essence, the real sexy stuff, and the stuff that makes the most money by a country mile, will not in future be found in producing new technology or new applications. It will come from using those tools to squeeze every last drop of insight, possible trend or merest whisper of a prediction out of the vastest of vast accumulations of data it is possible some businesses to now hold and manipulate.

Basically the spoils will go, in the long term, to those businesses that hold – store and manage – the most data on behalf of the most customer businesses.

What they will then require of course, are smart tools that are capable of undertaking that squeeze in ways that maintain data integrity and security; that can, for example, fully de-personalise and anonymise all data so that every possible hint of  who did something can be removed, leaving behind what they did as a small contribution to a huge range of data about what they have done and might likely do in the future.


Statistical significance is driven by the simple logic that the bigger and more varied the source of input data, the better the output result is likely to be. And there are, it is expected, a globally significant number of businesses that will be willing to pay eye-wateringly large amounts of good money to get their hands on such results.

Perhaps naively, in my conversation with Casalaina, I allowed myself to take a couple of simple logical steps.

One was that, as the largest of the large SaaS-based service providers, with a huge, global customer base of cloud-only users, Salesforce was the inevitable keeper of a significant minority of the world’s most relevant business data. The other was that, with Einstein, it had the basic weaponry with which to create a set of tools that might well be able to protect the integrity and security of the data, while liberating its underlying meaning as an exploitable resource.

Casalaina’s response was quick and vehement:

No. This is about Trust. Our customers trust us not to do something like that. It is written into every contract we make that we will not do anything like that.

For the first time in my professional career, I felt the urge to apologise for what appeared to be such an obvious insult. After all, we currently stand at a time when every social media user has the perfect right to feel that they have had their personal details reamed out of them and sold down the river for a mess of pottage. Casalaina’s was both a strong and good position to hold.

And let’s face it, it is one that, if ever breached, could see a company like Salesforce implode.

And yet….and yet….

The notion that data is the new oil is not going to go away. Indeed, it is only ever going to get stronger as an idea. And that idea, that opportunity, will be driving others that hold vast amounts of other peoples’ data to look for ways to exploit what they hold, to come up with the smart tools that will be able to tease out the intrinsic value for both structured and unstructured data without breaking the integrity and security of the data itself.

Salesforce could still look itself in its collective face if it set its mind to use Einstein as the basis for such a project, perhaps even more so if kept the subsequent results as the finest port passed round only at the Salesforce table and never released to the hoi polio. That could be something of a marketing come-on of great value - `get the trends being seen and created by some of the biggest and best companies in the world’ – you know the sort of malarkey that gets written.

The company can do this AND maintain the trust. And if it doesn’t it, might customers start expecting it to do so?

My take

Well, that’s it really. There is much more to be said yet about the data=oil trend, and some early passes at the subject can be expected soon. But one suggestion that makes a complementary pair with it is that some big names will, for one reason or another, miss this particular boat.

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