Water, Gas, Electricity…Data? is it the new Utility?

I had a conversation with a Professor from Cambridge University during a flight back to the UK a while ago, he was a specialist in the energy sector and following our chat it really got me thinking about the similarities between the traditional utilities that we use and Data. Oh yeah and before anyone picks up on it, there are lots of things I love about my job, the two I mention were the ones most relevant to this post 😉

As I mention in the video, here’s the poll, I’m really interested to see whether you view Data as the new Utility or not. If you’ve got more to add then do share your opinion in the comments for this post.

I’ll release the results on the 17th March so be sure to come back and see what the opinion is!

[yop_poll id=”3″]



  1. In that conversation, your analogy was a good one. It explained one aspect of data management in a way the professor could relate to.

    But beyond that conversation, I think it’s a misleading analogy.

    One of the most important things about utilities is that they are fungible commodities. One cubic meter of natural gas is the same as every other cubic meter of gas. A 50 Hz, 230 volt current is the same regardless of how it was generated or transmitted.

    Data is not fungible. I don’t care about e-mail in general. I care about my particular e-mail. That introduces all sorts of complexities in how we generate, store and manage data which never come up in utilities. You might have back-up supplies of electricity, but you never have to back up a particular electron. That’s not true for my data.

    You might argue the data services are utilities, but the data itself? No way.

    1. Great additional perspective on this Steve, thanks for the comments. As you say, data may just be a stream of zeros and ones but its how these relate to each other to form something meaningful that’s important.

  2. For a non-technical person like me, being a HR specialist, I must say I really like this comparison. It is easy to understand and explain, must remember this one! So often I am asked for what company do you work and I don’t get much further than explaining NetApp as an IT company specialized in data storage before people start thinking how boring, which it is not!

  3. Hi Matts,

    That’s quite a good analogy and a new perspective. Like gas and electricity, we could state data also as a commodity then. Becomes a service or information when delivered at the endpoint.

    May be the utility stack also follows the same same principles as the communication stack ( albeit without complex protocols).

    It may well have commercial ramifications at the user application levels. No wonder most of the cash rich companies today are from energy, utility and data. The mechanisms too are pay per use, Saas, etc.

    If we dig a bit deeper may be there is a learning here for companies who deliver information to the user application.

    1. In the follow up blog that I just posted, this is my thinking too. Whilst I don’t think you can actually class Data as a utility in the way that we can for Gas, Electricity etc I absolutely believe there is much we can learn from these types of companies.

      Infrastructures that we build can learn much from the infrastructures that utility companies build, billing and charging mechanisms and most importantly the use of data and analytics that these companies are very good at.

      Your comment about the communication stack also got me thinking about the mobile suppliers and the way they charge, if you have your email account with them you don’t pay them for the quantity of data they store for you, you pay them for the amount of data that transfers between your handset and them over the mobile network, for (something) as a service suppliers I suspect we’ll see more and more of these types of billing too.

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