The ‘data divide’ is a new form of injustice. Ending it could help us meet humanity’s greatest challenges

Just as the digital divide prevented millions of people from accessing the benefits of the Internet a generation ago, there is a new “data divide” separating the haves from the have-nots.

The “haves” include people, businesses and organizations that have lots of new data and have the technology and skills to use it to grow and prosper, while the “have nots” are those operating with limited or no guidance indication of what is effective and whose economic growth or social progress is stunted as a result.

Businesses must prioritize investment in data not only to generate revenue, but also to close the data gap, an essential step in solving social and environmental problems and improving the overall health of our society and economy.

Definition of division

The data divide is more than data access: it is the growing disparity between the growing use of data to create business value and the comparatively weak use of data to solve social and environmental challenges.

This is a clear and present problem. According to IDC, spending on big data and analytics solutions exceeded $215 billion by 2021, with one-third of that spending coming from just three sectors: banking, discrete manufacturing, and professional services. More than half of the spending comes from just one country: the US

Meanwhile, nonprofits lack access to data, technology, and skills. For example, according to IBM, 67% of nonprofits have no experience using data analytics for their work.

In the public sector, some government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the US Census Bureau, have implemented strong data strategies to drive greater impact. But most government organizations around the world face enormous challenges in leveraging their data to deliver services effectively and efficiently. Major issues that could benefit from data analytics, such as climate change, health equity, and quality education, may not receive the attention and skills they need.

How to close the gap

All sectors must mobilize to invest in overcoming this gap. Organizations that play a role in the data ecosystem, or are already leaders in the use of data, can help create accessible and transformative solutions by sharing tools, talent and financial resources to make data skills more widely available available to non-profit organizations. This may also include donating software licenses, training and support to non-profit organizations and educational institutions around the world to foster data literacy and action.

Leadership can also come from the public sector. For example, the UN Global Pulse: Data for Climate Action is an unprecedented open innovation challenge to harness data science and private sector big data to fight climate change. This challenge aims to harness private big data to identify revolutionary new approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation.

Closing the gap isn’t just about solving global crises, but data can also help address local issues. For example, Operation Clean Sweep in Buffalo, NY, used 311 call data to reach out to citizens. It started by connecting residents with critical health and human services. During neighborhood visits, corps members also clean up, seal vacant homes, remove graffiti and fill potholes, and the city uses data to determine which neighborhoods need the most services.

Data fragmentation may not seem like a pressing issue to many, but it underlies some of the world’s most pressing problems. With so many global crises already unfolding, we need problem solvers from all sectors to harness the power of data for positive social and environmental impact. If we do not act decisively and urgently, the most disadvantaged will fall further and further behind, and we will all feel the effects.

If we act now, we can empower people and organizations around the world to use data to solve a wide range of problems, from skills shortages to climate change. We might even fix some potholes.

Kriss Deiglmeier is SplunkDirector of Social Impact of.

Opinions expressed in comments are solely the opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of the fortune.

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