What the Power Grid Can Teach Us About Data Sharing

British mathematician Clive Humby is credited with coining the phrase “data is the new oil.” Respectfully, this statement no longer rings true – and data sharing is one of the main reasons why.

A lot has changed since 2006, when Humby first made this comparison. To put it into perspective, Twitter launched that same year – and we all know how much that has changed. But the way we use data has also radically transformed since then.

Humby’s reasoning was that like oil, data is valuable but unusable if not refined. While this is a fair point, it’s not necessarily valid in today’s world. For one, oil is a non-renewable resource that offers no value after its first use; data can be used, reused, modified, and then used again. And with the rise of unstructured data use – particularly for AI systems and applications – refinement is no longer as critical. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, oil is single-use – it can be shared, but not ultimately used by different people. If you and your neighbor could fuel your cars with the same oil, there would be much less complaining about gas prices.

Unfortunately, the fact that data is shareable doesn’t mean that the act of sharing it is easy or straightforward. In fact, it’s plagued with hesitation, uncertainty, and – to put it bluntly – fear. In the worst scenarios, this trickles down to stagnant data initiatives, missed business goals, and falling short of your competition.

But, by reframing your organization’s approach to internal and external data sharing – and investing in the right tools – you will be better positioned to de-risk data so that you can move quickly, confidently, and collaboratively toward your goals. Let’s see how.

The Data Sharing Challenge

Instead of thinking of data as oil, we should think of it as electricity: renewable, versatile, and with the right treatment, cost-effective. But, like with electricity, various standards exist to ensure data is maintained and used safely.

Securing the Grid

From natural disasters and equipment malfunctions, to supply chain breakdowns and vandalism, power grids face threats from every angle. Beyond inconvenience, compromised power grids can threaten the availability of basic needs, like heat and running water. Risk mitigation tactics, such as proper equipment maintenance and winterization, could have prevented such dire consequences.

The same can be said for data. Increased reliance on data inherently expands its attractiveness to hackers, insider threats, and malicious actors. Data breaches have severe consequences, from financial losses and privacy violations, to reputational damage. Proactively assessing risk and putting measures in place to reduce threats to data is the best way to avoid negative outcomes and ensure your system runs without disruption.

Navigating Regulatory Oversight

A myriad of layered regulations exist for electricity, both at the national and state levels. In the US, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulates interstate transmission of electricity, but each state also has its own standards and oversight processes.

Likewise, broad regulations like the GDPR and CCPA put guardrails on how data can be shared, and internal or ad hoc rules, including contractual agreements, are often layered on top. You must ensure your system is built to meet these requirements at every level.

Load Sharing

In the context of electrical grids, load sharing distributes electricity demands across multiple power sources or generation units. This reduces excessive strain on a single unit, which extends equipment lifespan and improves efficiency. In other words, the grid is reliant on the interoperability of all its moving parts.

Similarly, data sharing is a cross-functional effort. For it to work effectively, all stakeholders must collaborate and take accountability for handling data responsibly. Building trust is essential, especially when dealing with sensitive data, and the right checks and balances must be in place to ensure data compliance.

Fear of Going Nuclear

Despite its benefits – grid stability, reliability, and low carbon emissions, to name a few – nuclear power gets a bad rap. Malfunctions and radioactive waste can pose a significant threat to both citizens and the environment.

Data sharing, like nuclear power, is sometimes overshadowed by fear and uncertainty. What if sensitive data is exposed? How do you know exactly how data is being shared, with whom, and why? But when implemented securely, data sharing has legitimate benefits and value. Once a secure and successful nuclear plant is set up (internal sharing), the benefits can be scaled to provide more widespread value to the electrical grid (external sharing).

Data Sharing vs. Data Utility

The hurdles to effective electricity use mirror those associated with data sharing. In both cases, there is tension between security and utility.

  • Security: The most valuable data is often the most sensitive, which makes leveraging data sets containing sensitive information risk-prone. Depending on an organization’s risk tolerance, this may lead teams to lock down their data in order to be as risk-averse as possible.
  • Utility: Data drives results – and not leveraging it inherently leaves money on the table. The potential losses associated with not using and delivering value from data could also pose larger risks to your company’s success.

[Read More] The Top 5 Barriers to Data Sharing and How to Overcome Them

This paradox has real implications: A recent Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education paper found that there is a growing revenue and productivity gap between companies that are able to effectively collaborate and create value from their data, and those that are not. On top of this, over a third of the respondents to the 2024 State of Data Security Report cited a “lack of visibility into data sharing and usage” as their organization’s biggest security challenge. If data can’t be shared, insights will stall. But if it’s shared too freely, you incur immense risk.

Still, much like the need for sustainable energy, the demand for data is ever growing. So, how can you leverage data sharing to yield benefits while ensuring it’s harnessed safely and effectively?

Reframing Secure Data Sharing to Drive Business Success

Reframing data sharing – from a practice that’s riddled with risk and complexity, to one that is achievable and scalable – requires the right tooling. After all, you wouldn’t try to make an oil refinery into a nuclear power plant without updating the existing infrastructure.

By approaching data sharing in the same deliberate manner as power generation – securely, methodically, and risk-aware – you’ll be able to tap into your data’s value without compromising safety. This requires:

Automated Data Discovery & Classification

Imagine if the team operating a nuclear power plant didn’t know exactly where the low-enriched uranium fuel rods were located in their plant – they would literally be endangering the lives of innocent civilians.

Similarly, you can’t share data – or control how it’s shared – if you don’t know it exists. You also can’t legally or ethically expose sensitive information without authorization. To facilitate de-risked data sharing, you need to know what kind of data you have and where it resides.

This requires automated data discovery and classification, which categorizes sensitive data like PII and PHI according to regulatory frameworks, enabling full visibility into what data you have and how to govern it. With this contextual information, you’ll have a holistic view of what controls must be applied to data in order to safely and compliantly share it.

Robust Access & Security Controls

To ensure safe operation, power grids are rife with security and safety controls. While these controls involve electronic surveillance and physical security, they also often include robust background checks on anyone that works in or visits the plant.

The same criteria should hold true for your data ecosystem. Give the wrong user access to sensitive data, and you open yourself to leaks, breaches, and other forms of misuse. Security measures like data access control, data masking, and encryption are crucial for mitigating these risks to your sensitive information. Just as only authorized individuals are allowed in nuclear power plants, you should adhere to the principle of least privilege – only sharing the minimum amount of data necessary with users for the specific purpose at hand.

Continuous Monitoring & Auditing

Power plants operate under constant surveillance, leveraging everything from security cameras, to always-on guard rotations, to monitoring devices on reactors and sensitive areas. Without this kind of rigorous monitoring, compromises to the plant’s operability and security may go unnoticed until it’s too late.

Your data sharing processes should be treated similarly – subject to continuous data monitoring and anomaly detection to ensure data is protected consistently, regardless of who it is shared with or why it is being used. Monitoring not only allows you to ensure security and access policies are operating as intended, but it also maintains a consistent activity log to prove alignment with compliance laws and regulations.

De-Risking Data Sharing at Scale

Data may no longer be the new oil, but it’s now more powerful than ever. To maximize that power, it’s time to stop thinking of data sharing as a risky proposition, and instead as a door to new innovation, collaboration, and business-driving insights.

Modern cloud data security platforms simplify and de-risk data collaboration, without compromising accessibility or use. With centralized security tooling, your team is able to apply crucial security measures like data discovery and classification, dynamic data access controls, and continuous data monitoring that protect your entire ecosystem.

By striking the security-utility balance, you’re able to harness the power of your data without compromising integrity, trust, or reputation – or causing a data “meltdown.”

To learn more about achieving secure data sharing, check out our De-Risk Your Data Sharing content bundle today. Request a demo to explore how Immuta can enable secure collaboration for your team.

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