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Summary:

What can the internet of things learn from modern farming? Plenty given that the industry is well on its way to building viable businesses around connectivity and data analysis.

As we connect more devices, share our opinions on more social platforms and attach more sensors to our bodies, we are generating slivers of economic value that only become worth something in aggregate. This is both the privacy and economic challenge of the internet of things. But as a story about big data and farming from the Wall Street Journal shows, the value of this data is currently accruing more to big firms than the people offering it up.

The story in the Journal discusses how the agricultural industry is using data gleaned by farmers about their fields and crops to then offer prescriptive plantings. As we covered when Monsanto purchased Climate Corp. last year, or in a chat at our Structure Connect (formerly Mobilize) conference connectivity and data are changing the agricultural landscape. But the challenge can be summed up by this quote from a soybean farmer:

Jerry Demmer, a 61-year-old corn and soybean farmer near Albert Lea, Minn., is thinking about trying a data-analysis service but has “tossed and turned” over who will control the information. “It’s our data,” Mr. Demmer says, but “I’m not sure how we’re going to protect that.”

I worry about this too, when I’m thinking about sharing my fitness data or connecting my home. The problem is that alone, that information has little value. It takes additional data or a well-developed set of algorithms to go from “Stacey turns on her A/C every day at 5 p.m.” to building a demand-response system that can help reduce power consumption. In farming, data about one person’s fields or crop performance is just another point in a constellation of information that will lead to insights that can improve planting schedules across a geographic region.

So Demmer’s concerns are valid, and any industry that wants to use data to build a service should focus on them — attempting to offer incentives for the individual’s data and also letting the individual control their data should they feel like the value they are getting from the service decreases. In farming, the idea is that farmers make more money via efficient planting, although in a commodity business greater efficiencies tend to lower prices over time. Farmers must also trust the companies they are sharing this information with. Trust that the information-sharing benefits them and won’t be used against them later on.

The future of innovation and economic growth may very well be tied up in broader data-sharing efforts, but if a few players skim off those gains without spreading the benefits around, the incentive to share that data will dry up. We’ll have to work on getting the economic incentives right, and they will likely shift over time. Connecting things and data analytics is hard, but the economics may be harder.

We’ll talk about this and other relevant issues around using data in your business at our Structure Data conference March 19 and 20 in New York.

  1. Scary but true. It’s amazing the shear volumes of data generated, collected, analyzed, stored. ..organizations need to be diligent in embracing security strategies and usage standards.

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  2. None of us *is* in control, the title should read. You can think of the word ‘none’ as ‘not one’. :)

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  3. You only volunteer for it. They do all the heavy lifting, the big firms.
    Its not like you’re going to start losing out on life because of it.
    One way you migh los out on the good things is if you don’t protect data that you can. You need to make sure that nothing bad happens to that data. There are many good solutions to take care of it too. I personnally use Rollback Rx.

    Worry about the things that you can protect, not about things that are completely worrthless and pointless. The farmers don’t get a say in where ICBM Silo’s are going to be stored. Though they themselves elected a government to do that in a democracy.

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