In the eyes of many around the world, deserts are no more than wide expanses of sand and harsh environments that offer little to benefit from. This was true until the UAE was able to provide an unmatched, realistic and successful example of the strength of willpower. We could have looked at the desert as if it was a natural barren piece of land that does not offer many opportunities, but instead, we have given it a different social, economic, and civilisational meaning.

Our position is, in a way, similar to how countries and institutions deal with data today. Some still accumulate data as you would sand in a desert, with no meaning or value. Others, on the contrary, with us at the forefront, perceive data as the wealth of the future, and a fertile environment that offers ample opportunities to take performance and effectiveness of cities or organisations to a whole new level. The topic of this week’s Data Moments article occurred to me while I was thinking of an important fact: at all times, we decide what meaning we give to our surroundings, and what role they play in our lives.

The abundance of sand in the desert is similar to how data is abundant in the world today. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025, the production of data on a daily basis could reach up to 463 exabytes (that is the equivalent of 212,765,957 DVDs). There are many statistics that show numbers that are not any smaller. This huge number makes digital wealth a never-ending reserve of the “oil of the future”.

To ensure we generate most value from data, the fourth pillar in Dubai’s data ecosystem (integration and interaction between government and private sector entities) was achieved through our Data Science Lab and other data initiatives. The importance of the Data Science Lab lies in giving meaning to data — due to the collaboration between Dubai’s government and private sectors — by creating new data powered use cases that are built due to an actual need in the city, one that would make people’s lives much easier in the future.

Today, the decision is for cities and their institutions to make — data could remain as a barren desert, or it could be a journey of unprecedented accomplishments in pursuit of tomorrow’s fortune.