Will Big Data And Analytics Deliver The Promised Land?

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What do B2B technology vendors sell?

No, it is not the technology.  Think again, what do B2B technology vendors sell?  They sell dreams that speak to a fundamental human need. What dreams? Dreams of control-mastery-domination over the ever flowing, every morphing, character of a process we turn into a noun: life.

What need do these dreams take root from and speak to?  The need for safety and security. At some fundamental level we get that nature is indifferent to our survival and wellbeing.  To deal with this anxiety we embrace anything that provides the illusion of safety-security. The Greeks embraced the Gods, we embrace technology and the latest technofix.

I notice that the big data and analytics space is hot right now.  It is the latest technofix being pushed by the B2B technology vendors.  It occurs to me that this technofix is designed to speak to those running large enterprises – especially those who are higher up and divorced from the lived experience of daily operational life at the coal face.

What I find astonishing is that so few actually ask the following two questions:

1. “What kind of a being is a human being?”

2. “What kind of a culture is human culture?”

What is the defining characteristic of human beings?

Allow me to illustrate by share a story I read many years ago:

Psychologist:  John, you have been referred to me by the authorities. They tell me that you think that are dead. Is that right? Are you dead?

John: Absolutely, I died a little while back.  I am dead. 

Psychologist: How interesting! You died a little back. Yet here you are talking with me. And I am not dead.  So how is it that you are dead and I am not dead, yet here we are talking? 

John: Beats me how this works or why it is happening. I know that I am dead. 

Psychologist: John, I have an idea. Do dead people bleed? 

John: Don’t be ridiculous! Everyone knows that dead people don’t bleed! 

The psychologist suddenly reaches over and cuts John’s hand with a knife. Both of them are looking at John’s hand. Blood, dark red blood, is seeping through the cut.  The psychologist looks at John with the look of satisfaction, of victory. Let’s rejoin the conversation.

Psychologist: John, do you see that blood on your hand? How do you make sense of it? You say that you are dead. And earlier you told me that dead people don’t bleed.

John: F**k me, dead people do bleed!

Before you dismiss that as an amusing story, I invite you to read this article which can be summed up as the UK Government sacks the chair of the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Why? Because the chair was insisting on the reclassification of drugs. What happened?

  1. The Advisory Council looked at the data (of harm to the individual taking the drugs and others affected by his/her behaviour) on drugs at the request of the UK.
  2. On the basis of the data, the Advisory Council came up with the conclusion that “if drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be class A, alongside heroin and crack cocaine.”
    3. The drug rankings, associated findings and recommendations were ignored by the UK government. Why? Because they went against the government’s stance on drugs.

  3. The chair of the Advisory Council challenged the UK government’s refusal to act on the recommendations of the Advisory Council.  So the appropriate UK Government minister sacked him.

We, human beings, are not rational creatures. We are ideological creatures: our lives are lived from and in tune with a particular ideology. Which ideology?  Most of us live the dominant ideology. Hence accept data driven conclusions-recommendations that fit into our ideology and our agenda within that ideology.  Anything that challenges that is repressed at the individual level, belittled-disputed-ignored at the societal level.

What Does The Future Hold for Big Data & Analytics?

If past behaviour is an adequate guide to the future then it is safe to say that technology vendors will get rich. And the business folks will have another layer of technology that they have to manage. One or two organisations may reap substantial benefits, the rest will be disappointed.  Yet, this disappointment will not last long. Why? By that time the technology folks will have come up with the latest technofix!

I leave you with the following thoughts:

  • There are no technofixes to the kinds of social issues-problems we continue to face;
  • Incremental improvements lie in the domain of big data and analytics;
  • Breakthroughs lie in our ability to see that which is with new eyes – a shift in dominant concepts, dominant paradigm, dominant ideology, dominant way of seeing that which is.

Put differently, big data & analytics is a red herring for those who aspire to lead: to cause-create that which does not exist today.  Managers, those whose horizon extends to daily operations and the next twelve months, may find big data and analytics useful – as long as it does not threaten the sacred cows of the Tops-Middles and the corporate culture.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Independent
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.

1 COMMENT

  1. Beginning with misguided concepts such as re-engineering, whose creators left their cost-reduction and culture-crippling ideas behind and became customer loyalty consultants, we can only hope that what is identified as big data doesn’t share a similar fate. Done well, the flow of customer-related information can be intelligently converted into the kind of insight that drives, and increases, value. Done poorly, and consistent with red-herring types of outcomes, the hyper-accumulation of data has the potential to divert enterprise attention, strategies, and resources.

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