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The tech industry thrives on metaphor. Take, for example, the office metaphor for personal computers, where we clear our desktops, file away documents, look at our mail, and enter meeting rooms.

We also have metaphors for data. One that gets quite a bit of traction these days is “data is the new oil.” In tech industry terms, this metaphor is hardly new. In fact, it is said to have been coined way back in 2006 by Clive Humby, a UK mathematician. At the time, Humby was working on maximizing the value of loyalty cards for customers. To succeed, he implied, smart use of customer data was critical.

Running on data

This metaphor looks at the fact that data – like oil in the 20th-century economy – is the core commodity of today’s digital economy. Looking backward 10 or 15 years, companies controlling oil enjoyed the largest market capitalization. Today, these companies have been replaced by the likes of Google, Apple, and Amazon. Whereas the 20th-century economy ran on oil, the digital economy runs on data.

Commodity control is one thing; value is another. This was as true back then as it is now. In an oil economy, nobody put crude oil in their cars unless they were looking for trouble. No, this crude oil first needed to be refined before end consumers could get the value.

Similarly, raw data is of little use on its own; it needs to be refined to be useful, which is Humby’s ultimate point. The value of raw data, in other words, is only potential value – all depending on what you do with it.

The foundation of the intelligent enterprise

Doing the right thing with the data is what the intelligent enterprise is all about. Take a look at the graphic below. This represents SAP’s technology landscape model for the intelligent enterprise – the kind of company that uses data to thrive in the digital economy.

Notice that data management is foundational. It’s a core part of your digital platform, undergirding everything else you do.

Let’s say you’re an HVAC manufacturer and you’re under competitive pressure to Internet-enable the machines you install. Your goal, in the end, is to move to an entirely new business model. You want to move from making, selling, and servicing machines to delivering temperature-controlled air on demand.

Under this model, your customers don’t buy your machines – rather, you install, monitor, and service the machines as a part of a contract where the customer pays per usage. Usage is monitored by sensors built into the machines and transmitted back to you.

This is where the middle section of the graphic – intelligent technologies – comes into play. Technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning are effective only with the right data going in: “Garbage in, garbage out,” to use another old but relevant metaphor. A data platform that can effectively leverage the overwhelming volume of data that is accessible today and then process it for truly meaningful insights: That’s a data platform worthy of the intelligent enterprise.

Moving upward in the graphic, you’ll notice the “intelligent suite.” This is your set of integrated business software – highly extensible and flexible, available in the cloud or on-premise. The applications in this suite are fueled by the data fed from the data platform. Managing the supply chain, engaging customers, or billing based on a pay-per-usage business model – whatever you’re doing, the right data (refined to your needs) is critical for success.

Technology landscape of the intelligent enterprise

What’s needed

But what exactly should you expect from your data platform? At SAP, we think there are three vital components for the data management layer. These include:

  • Trust: Your platform must deliver data that you can trust to make business decisions. This means tools to help you automate data governance and ensure the level of accuracy you require.

  • Visibility and connectedness: Your data platform must deliver a single unified view of data and enable you to connect this data to applications for business purposes.

  • Cloud and architecture flexibility: Your platform must also have the ability to work in the hybrid world of cloud and on-premise solutions found in most landscapes. This means freedom from specific data systems, applications, and development constraints.


In the digital economy, this is the kind of data platform that can turn oil into gold. To learn more about how to get where you need to be with your data, explore what key database influencers have to say in our eBook. Good luck building your intelligent enterprise.

Learn how to bring order to your data to find critical insights with the SAP Buyer’s Kit & this EMA study: Read the report.