British data scientist Clive Humby was famously quoted in 2006 as saying that “data is the new oil,” a statement that has been over-analyzed and occasionally criticized, but one that nonetheless retains its merits all these years later.

Soon after Humby made that statement, Michael Palmer, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, amplified the point in a blog post, writing that data cannot be used if it is left unrefined. Data, he asserted, is not fact, any more than fact is insight. Context is vital in order to draw conclusions from any information that is gathered. And, he added:

The issue is how do we marketers deal with the massive amounts of data that are available to us? How can we change this crude into a valuable commodity – the insight we need to make actionable decisions?

These questions are even more consequential nowadays, given the exponential increase in the amount of data in recent years. According to Statista, some 74 zettabytes of data will be created, copied, captured, or consumed around the world in 2021, 72 more than in 2010. Even more tellingly, this year’s total is expected to double by 2024.

As a result, it is incumbent upon organizations to employ tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning, which enable them to ingest and process all this information, and in turn, gain insights that will make possible better decision-making and ultimately improve the bottom line.

Specifically, the convergence of Big Data and AI enables integration and management to be automated. It allows for data to be verified, and some advanced AI even makes it possible to access legacy data. The resulting increase in efficiency could lead, according to a 2018 McKinsey study, to the creation of between $3.5 trillion and $5.8 trillion per year in value — and perhaps as much as $15.4 trillion — across no fewer than 19 business areas and 400 potential use cases. McKinsey also concluded that nearly half of all businesses had adopted AI, or were poised to do so.

They include, not surprisingly, tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Netflix, but also such widely divergent organizations as BNP Paribas, the world’s seventh-largest bank, and the energy company Chevron, among many others.

BNP Paribas Global Chief Information Officer Bernard Gavgani described data as being “part of our DNA” in an interview with Security Boulevard and noted that between September 2017 and June 2020, the bank’s use cases increased by 3.5 times. The goals, he added, were to improve workflows and customer knowledge, two examples being a scoring engine that enables the bank to establish credit and an algorithm that increases marketing efficiency.

Chevron, meanwhile, increased its productivity by 30 percent after the implementation in 2016 of a machine learning system that was able to pinpoint ideal well locations by incorporating data from the performance of the company’s previous wells. More recently, the company entered into a partnership with Microsoft, enabling them to use AI to analyze drilling reports and improve efficiency.

The latter is proof that data is not only the new oil, but that it can help find it, too. But the larger point is something else Palmer mentioned in his follow-up to Humby’s long-ago assertion — that data is merely a commodity, while insight is the currency an organization can use to drive growth. You need the best tools to drill down and gain that insight, and in this day AI and ML represent the best of the lot.