“In five years, inside the enterprise, analytics is just going to be called ‘management.’”
– David Wagner, “Five Intuitive Predictions About Analytics”
In recent years the explosion of big data and analytics tools has been truly inspiring. Companies and academics are now able to mine data sets that are mind bogglingly large. This wealth of data has proven to be a goldmine as data scientists hunt for previously unrecognized relationships, and seek to optimize everything from the most promising routes of inquiry for drug development, to the pricing of consumer goods, to best practices for maintenance of industrial machinery. Machine learning algorithms, making use of these large stores of data, are powering rapid advancements in artificial intelligence. Nevertheless, this multi billion dollar market has, at its heart, a fatal flaw: data by itself is useless, and insights without an action plan are nearly so. Absent change management expertise and leadership, the promise of big data will never be realized across the broad swath of organizations that might otherwise benefit from it.
As big data and data analytics tools progress through the hype cycle, disillusionment is setting in as company leaders struggle to realize the massive potential of these capabilities across massive organizations. And it is here that big data runs into a fundamental challenge: analysis may scale, but actionable insights do not seem to, and insights alone do not guarantee successful implementation.
Savvy companies, recognizing this fact, are seeking to embed data scientists into their management teams. This is a step in the right direction, but it is unlikely to be sufficient for companies with extensive physical operations and well-established business processes. For these companies, data-driven insights that suggest a compelling benefit to be gained from a reorganization of the business are worse than useless: they are a cruel promise of a gain that cannot be achieved, yet another example of technology’s reach exceeding its grasp.
What is needed is data savvy change management, spearheaded by leadership with the ability to foster a data-driven culture while also building a capability for change and reinvention into the very DNA of established companies. The promise of big data will, in the end, be realized or not based on the availability of a relatively scarce resource: accomplished change agent leadership.
About the Author
David Johnson Founder and Managing Partner of Abraxas Group, a boutique advisory firm focused on change management, strategy, and value maximization. In his nearly 20 years as a change agent, David has served as an advisor, board member, interim manager, investor and operator at organizations ranging in size from pre-revenue startups to Fortune 500 organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.