Revisiting the Biodiversity Information Management value proposition

 and Amazon has transformed the global economy through the use of intangible data. Data is their currency. They are expanding their data centres to accommodate the zettabytes (21 zeros) of data that is generated annually. Data and data analytics are therefore the foundations on which these technology companies are built. Manually analysing this data is impossible and companies have shifted towards cognitive services or artificial intelligence as a means to interpret and analyse the data. The cognitive outputs are driving marketing and sales, thereby Google Companies such as in turn generating revenue for these big digital companies. In short, the data generated by the user is used as a predictive marketing sales tool aimed at the same user.

Therefore, if data and data related services are fundamentally changing economies and making billions in the process, why is biodiversity data not part of this data revolution? Why is this valuable data resource not translating into direct or indirect revenue?


Getting to the Yellow Brick Road.

The biodiversity conservation sector, as it is currently structured, is not geared towards profit making. Its aim is to secure a sustainable planet for present and future generations. The data that is being collected as part of this work is regarded as a public good. The collection and management of biodiversity information are usually funded by governments and/or donor agencies. The information is freely available. The current reality is that providing access to biodiversity data is not going to create billions of Rands in revenue. Providing access to biodiversity data is not multibillion dollar dot com business operating around the globe.a hugely profitable business; if it were, there would be a

agenda, it is argued that this work must be funded from the public management Given the nature of fiscus. However, the public fiscus is shrinking and biodiversity, and in particular information management, is not going to get any special mention in the finance minister’s budget speech. We are seeing museums, herbaria, government departments and institutions’ responsibilities for managing biodiversity information far exceeding their ability to deliver. the biodiversity conservation and

Herein lies the rub for biodiversity information management: an expanded job function, a legislative mandate, broader pressing societal and economic needs, pressure for technological innovation, but with a constrained budget, limited skills, limited capacity and aging infrastructure. This sounds like a basis for a tragedy.

Sustainable Sustainability. The aim of collecting, managing and publishing biodiversity data is to contribute towards the broader sustainability agenda. However, the very sustainability of the function itself is under threat. There is an urgent need to review how this work will be sustained into the future given that the current stream of supporting resources will be declining. Therefore, how do we find new resource streams?

We need to identify the available opportunities to ensure a sustainable approach to managing biodiversity information. Whilst we cannot, and should not, mimic companies such as Google, we can learn from their approach: understanding the end-user needs. We need to understand the users, what they need, how they need it and when they need it.


Market Segmentation Model. The market segmentation model proposes an approach to clearly articulate the bigger user groups that can have an influence on resource allocation. The aim is to understand the respective needs, ensure the critical elements promote that uptake is in place and very importantly, to create a compelling message. Integration and alignment must occur at a product and services level to ensure maximum use of available resources.


The approach to understanding the end-users must focus on the following:

  1. Segmenting the end-user,

  2. Identifying the critical enabling levers, and

  3. Refining the message.


Segmenting the end-user. Biodiversity data is now freely available. Millions of records are available from GBIF, EOl and SANBI. This is fantastic and a major accomplishment. However, the challenge must shift from accumulating, to extracting value from the data. More specifically, the users need to know value the data holds. Segmenting the end-user and analysing their needs will provide a compelling argument for investing in-or paying for biodiversity information products and services.

Broadly, there are four categories of users for biodiversity information:

  1. Public sector,

  2. Private sector,

  3. Public interest groups, and

  4. Public.

Public sector. The use of biodiversity data for public policy is well entrenched within South Africa. It has been used to support the national legislative obligations such as developing National Biodiversity Plans and reporting against the obligations of international treaties. It has been used to support job creation through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) and innovatively analysed to understand the economic importance of our ecosystems. Whilst the motivation for use of biodiversity data in public policy is around compliance with laws, regulation and policy itself, there is a huge need to enhance and expand the support to developmental objectives on areas such as employment, economic development, livelihoods and human health.

An example of systemic use of biodiversity data beyond the biodiversity and conservation sector will be to understand how drought aids the transmission of plant and animal

borne vectors and the possible impact on areas such as human health and food security. A negative impact will have a systemic influence on employment, economic development and human health services.

Strategically responding to public policy will demonstrate the value of biodiversity data to developmental objectives, beyond the conservation agenda.

The specific application of biodiversity data within the private sector holds Private sector. much opportunity. The drive towards creating sustainable business operations is gaining momentum as businesses realise that being “green” is more than a passing fad, it cuts to the bottom line of profits. A new wave of business operations is gaining momentum; whereby profits are not the only driving force. Creating shared value is viewed as a more sustainable business model. According to Porter and Cramer[i], shared value is about ensuring a fair distribution of societal benefit. Big corporations are trying to understand how their business’s link towards the broader sustainable development objectives and further specifically to understand this concept of biodiversity.

There is of course a second motivation for the private sector to use biodiversity data; the development of products and services. Products can include new active ingredients for medicines, fragrances, food and beverages. Support can be provided to help drive the renewable energy market.

Companies are acknowledging their responsibility towards more sustainable practices as well as the need to move towards embracing the “blue and green” economies. The ability to interpret and respond to this growing market segment through innovative products and services can possibly open a new stream of resources and revenue for the biodiversity information community.

Public interest groups. Beyond the public & private sectors are the public interest groups. These are institutions, NGOs, CBOs and private individuals that are aiming to change behaviour and perceptions of society. The aim is to have them use biodiversity data to defend opinions and actions to influence public policy, corporate actions or human behaviour. Whilst this can be perceived as possible conflict of interest, it must be pointed out that the products and services must be hard science and not mere opinions.

The public interest groups very often are not flush with resources and are operating on marginal budgets or goodwill. However, what they do offer is a voice of advocacy to spread the contribution of biodiversity information in defining objective science to support their work.

Public. The general public with an interest in biodiversity data is a very important user group. Expanding the services to the public in a manner that is digestible will help raise awareness of biodiversity, as well as help justify public investment in this function. The public support can extend to schools and universities in order to help align teaching with current challenges facing biodiversity conservation and management.


Identifying the critical enabling levers. Understanding the user market does not automatically translate into increased demand. There are a few basic, but critical, enabling levers that must be in place:

  1. Capture\collate\collect data that is needed:

Having billions of records of data available can provide an immense opportunity for experimenting with machine learning algorithms, but will hold little value to a policy maker if it cannot answer relevant questions.

  1. Improve access to the content:

Having data records online is a good start, but the ability to find the nugget you are looking for, within the timeframe that you need it, will be the winning factor.

  1. Ensure that the quality statement of the data is clear:

Biodiversity data, like all data is fraught with accuracy and errors challenges. We need to ensure that the user knows and understands the opportunities and limitations of using the data.

  1. Improve the quality of the data:

Develop unambiguous data collection quality metrics to improve data quality and user confidence.

  1. Ensure one authoritative version of the truth:



Currently there are many access points to biodiversity data. Having multiple versions of the same data could lead to multiple interpretations and possibly conflicting interpretations that can have negative impacts.

  1. Have accurate reporting metrics:

Having accurate metrics of volume, access, users and application is a non-negotiable task. The statistics itself will defend the importance of this function.


Refining the message. Very often the biodiversity information management community can instantly recognise the data that is used for purposes of planning, policy, research or general inquiry. However, for the general user, even within this sector, it is not that evident. Users do not often recognise the origin of the data used in upstream products or services.

Think about the company Intel. Intel developed a product that was driving computers: the semiconductor chip. Nobody new this and Intel recognised that people were not aware what was driving the computer. It developed the “Intel Inside” campaign to raise awareness of the value they add to the final product and over time, the “intel inside” sticker has become an indicator of value to the consumer.




Biodiversity information management, like any other information management function, requires investment in infrastructure, capacity and skills development. It is a continuous investment. However, we need to recognise that adequate funding and resources will not materialise without a clear market segmented product and service offering. The next phase in managing biodiversity information is therefore beyond collection; it is understanding the target market. It is about ensuring that the products and services match the target market demands and having a consistent message on the value of biodiversity information that will deliver a compelling value proposition. Where to from here?



Currently the biodiversity information function and content are hidden by the upstream products. The challenge is to gracefully, innovatively and disruptively expose the content behind the products. Biodiversity information management needs a coordinated marketing approach to let the users know when a product or service has “biodiversity data inside”. This will enhance the value of the product and services and can lead to an increase in demand.