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Do We Really Want Data-Driven Organizations?


Posted by on July 2, 2013

Big data, lots of data, a whole ton of data, super massive big data!

This seems to be what a lot of people are talking about lately; how to collect and leverage as much data as we can possibly get to make business decisions; aka building the data-driven organization; and it scares the hell out of me.

When I was in college I was always told by my economics and statistics professors that data can be deceiving.  In fact you can pretty much tell any story that you want with the same set of numbers and a bit of careful manipulation.  Nowadays we are getting data from every corner of the web both internally and internally; everything from social media platforms to enterprise collaboration applications to cloud storage providers to customer purchase information (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg).  The amount of data that we get is getting bigger and bigger and it will never slow down; it will only get bigger.  So, naturally organizations are thinking of how they can collect and make the most sense of the data that they have access to from all over the web.

There is nothing wrong with leveraging data to make business decisions.  But that’s very different than having a data-driven organization.  A data-driven organization is one that puts information and data ahead of people and relies on data to tell us what to do and how to do it.  Right now that might not seem like a big deal but eventually we are going to start living our lives the way data tells us to; and at that point we’ve essentially given up what makes us human.

I love sci-fi books.  Actually the Foundation and I, Robot series by Isaac Asimov are probably my all time favorite science fiction books and they all deal with big-data in some way.  The Foundation series deals with a character by the name of Hari Seldon who develops something called psychohistory which is essentially a science that combines history, sociology, and mathematics to make predictions about the future as it pertains to the world (not individuals).  Clearly this Hari Seldon fellow was dealing with massive amounts of data as the fictional population at that time was far greater than 7 billion.  Long story short, Hari creates psychohistory, eventually dies and the “world” is essentially living out what they “think” they should be doing based on Hari’s predictions.  In other words the people are doing things because the data tells them to.

Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch to compare this fictitious novel with a data-driven organization but hopefully you can still see the point I’m getting at here.  Our organizations should always be people driven not data-driven.  I posted this on twitter and Ben Haines the now CIO of Box responded by saying, “people driven with data enabled decisions win win,” and I completely agree.

The challenge that we are going to face going forward is how to keep our organizations “people driven” without giving up too much control to data.  If we spend all of our time trying to build a data-driven organization then eventually we will have no need for managers or employees, just robots who do what the data tells them to.

We don’t need data driven organizations, we need people driven but data enabled organizations.

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  • http://igo2group.com/ Michael Green

    Hi Jacob, clearly starting with the end in mind (Covey) is key! Really “big-data” allows executives and employees to explore new opportunities, new perspectives, new markets, new customers, new ways to engage their community. It often results in change management process to make the “big-data” insights actionable within an organisation. However, “big-data” doesn’t change the core business of an organisation. It does allow for a more effective organisation.

    A colleague @adamson of mine recently summarised his view of the three big data’s big questions that must be answered.

    To summarize his three biggest big data questions are:
    1) What do you want to know – what is the prediction?
    2) What do you plan to do when you know the prediction, is it organisationally feasible?
    3) How do you intend to influence people towards the prediction and not away from it?

    Keep the contextual content coming Jacob!

    Here is the link: http://www.kinshipdigital.com/_blog/Blog/post/what-to-do-3-biggest-questions-big-data-predictive-analysis-part2/