Data Flows: How They are Powering the Global Economy


This week’s 2016 Future in Review (FiRe) conference in Park City, Utah, is focusing on the “power of flows,” with a particular focus on how to answer the question: “Will it be impossible to store all of the data flows?”

Data flows are similar to other flows of goods and services that have long powered the global economy. Only instead of soybeans and automobiles, these data flows primarily consist of information, searches, communications, transactions, video and intracompany traffic. And they are massive consumers of bandwidth, increasing from 4.7 terabits per second (Tbps) in 2005 to 211.3 Tbps in 2014.

As discussed in my article, “How Interconnection Increased Global Data Flows by 45X,” global data flows now make up the largest component of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth, exceeding the contribution of goods in global trade. According to the FiRe organizers, “flows are everything, and understanding their nature and power will be the primary task in computing over the next decade.”

“Flows are everything” is a broad and bold claim, but economic forecaster Mark Anderson said it is not overstated in a BBC News podcast interview of multiple FiRe conference speakers.

“We think that the power behind how the world works is contained completely in the simple two ideas of flows and interactions,” Anderson said. “If you keep thinking in this new way you can see commonalities you would never have guessed you would have seen before.”

According to Anderson, those insights can be uncovered using mathematics that exists today.

Pai Ling Yin, assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California, said that mobile devices have magnified the ability to tap into flows.

“We find people using their mobile devices while they’re waiting for the bus or at the doctor’s office, so now we have all this data on people’s behaviors at times which before were very private,” she said.

And it’s not just human generated data. These devices can also be transmitting various types of data at all times.


How Data Flows Impact Economic Flows

The importance of data flows in economic growth is huge. According to Deloitte’s Bill Rabaudo, there are only four kinds of businesses that do four basic things:

  • Make Things ̶ which Wall Street typical values at one times the revenue
  • Provide a Service ̶ valued at two times the revenue
  • Invent Intellectual Property ̶ valued at four times the revenue
  • Orchestrate a Network, including trading platforms, eBay, Uber and similar companies ̶ valued at four times the revenue

Rabaudo said a country’s economy is directly impacted by which type of businesses and business data flows are dominant at a given time.

“When the majority of the companies in the country are investing in technology creators and network orchestrators, there’s positive GDP,” Rabaudo said. “When countries are more focused on asset builders and asset providers, their GDP is retarded compared to those focused on more technology driven business models.”

His conclusion: There is a “great race” going on between physical businesses going virtual and virtual businesses picking off whatever pieces of physical businesses they need. You need both physical and virtual businesses, and eventually it will all reach an equilibrium. But there is sure to be carnage on the way.”

Go With the Flow in Healthcare

Flows will also transform healthcare, according to professor Ben Smarr of the University of California, Berkeley. Today your trips to the doctor or medical tests provide mere “snapshots in time” of your health, with a lot of gaps in between. By taking advantage of advances in sensor technology and cell phones to tap into bodily flows over time, doctors and other providers will be able to detect small perturbations that indicate that a patient will become sick in the near future. They can then address the issue before it happens, just as businesses have started harnessing predictive analytics for preventive operational maintenance. The same data flows can be collected and principles applied in development and education.

Nothing Flows without Interconnection

Of course all these models will depend on fast, reliable and secure interconnection between people, locations, clouds and data, over low-latency connections to collect, access and analyze all these data flows. The maximum benefit will ultimately come if businesses can bring high-performance interconnections out to the edge of their corporate networks, where the majority of people, devices, systems and clouds intersect. In addition, the creation of local, scalable and secure data lakes, which can store large amounts of data to be accessed by people, applications, analytics and cloud services in real-time, will help provide safe havens to store rising numbers of data flows.

Read how data hubs can help you store and process data flows at the digital edge, faster and more securely.