Digital economy

OECD Technology Foresight Forum 2012 - Harnessing data as a new source of growth: Big data analytics and policies


OECD Headquarters, Paris, France
22 October 2012, 09:00-18:00




The confluence of several key socio-economic and technological trends is resulting in the generation of huge streams of data every day. The major trends include:

  • The increasing migration of social and economic activities on line. Social network site Facebook, for example, now counts over 900 million active participants around the world generating together more than 1500 status updates every second about their interests and whereabouts. In 2011, e-commerce platform eBay collected data on more than 100 million active users including the 6 million new goods they offered every day.

  • The strong decline in the cost of data collection, storage, transportation, and processing. The average cost of consumer hard disk drives (HDDs) per gigabyte, for example, dropped on average by almost 40% per year between 1998 (USD 56 per gigabyte) and 2012 (USD 0.05 per gigabyte). In 1995, as another example, consumers in France paid USD 75 equivalent per month for a dial-up (56 Kb/s) connection, while in 2011 they paid the equivalence of USD 33 per month for a broadband (51 Mb/s) connection, which was almost 1000 times faster.

  • The increasing deployment of “smart” ICT applications such as smart grids and smart transportations based on machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. Connecting one million homes to a smart grid may produce as much as 11 gigabytes of data per day. In order to accommodate for hourly readings through smart meters, a network with a minimum capacity of up to 1 Mbit/s dedicated to M2M communication is needed.

  • The continued expansion of mobile communication. In 2011, there were 780 million smart phones worldwide capable of collecting and transmitting geo-location data, which generated more than 600 petabytes (millions of gigabytes) of data every month. It is estimated that the global data traffic generated by mobile communication (including M2M enabled smart devices) will almost double every year to reach 11 exabytes (billions of gigabytes) per month by 2016.

The collection and exploitation of these large data flows through data analytics is leading to a shift towards a data-driven socio-economic model commonly referred to as “big data”. In this model, data is a core asset that provides a huge resource for new industries, processes, services and goods leading to significant competitive advantage. In business, for example, data analytics are increasingly being used in a wide number of operations ranging from optimising the value chain and manufacturing production to more efficiently using labour and improving customer relationships. It is estimated that firms, which adopt data-driven decision-making, for example, have output and productivity that is 5-6% higher than what would be expected given their other investments and information technology usage. These firms also perform better in terms of asset utilisation, return on equity and market value.

To unlock the potential of big data and data analytics (big data analytics), OECD countries need to ensure the development of coherent policies and practices around the collection, transportation, storage and use of data, most prominently in areas related to privacy protection. New data sources, new actors and the increasing ease with which personal data can be collected, linked and processed, seriously challenge the effective implementation of current frameworks for privacy protection. But the potential implications for policy also spill over into many other domains; including among others open access to data, intellectual property rights, competition, skills and employment, infrastructure, and measurement.



First launched in 2005, Technology Foresight Forums are an annual event organised by the OECD Committee for Information, Computer, and Communications Policy (ICCP) to help identify opportunities and challenges for the Internet Economy posed by technical developments. The 2012 Technology Foresight Forum will focus on the potential of big data analytics as a new source of growth, which could help generate significant economic and social benefits. It will put big data analytics in the context of emerging trends discussed at the last three Foresight Forums, namely mobile communications (2011), smart ICTs (2010), and cloud computing (2009), to highlight the confluence of trends leading towards a data-driven economy (see figure below).

The confluence of major trends enabling data as a new source of growth

The 2012 Foresight Forum discussed the social and economic issues related to big data analytics that may put at risk fundamental values and warrant a review of current policy frameworks, most prominently those aimed at ensuring the protection of privacy, intellectual property, and competition. Other policy areas addressed included health care, science and research, government administration and labour markets.

This 2012 Forum will contribute to OECD’s ongoing horizontal project entitled New Sources of Growth: Intangible Assets (NSG) as well as to the follow-up horizontal project on Knowledge-Based Capital: Seizing the Benefits of New Sources of Growth, which will be launched in 2013. Both projects aim at i) providing structured evidence of the economic value of intangible assets, including data, as a new source of growth, and ii) improving understanding of current and emerging challenges for policies related to the increasing relevance of these intangible assets. 


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