megan murray, big data, decision making
Not too many years ago, I was challenged to hear this phrase from a very senior enterprise leader. "Being a good leader means being able to make smart decisions with very little information." It struck me as reckless cowboy bravado then. It just seems hopefully foolish now, though I absolutely understand the world from which that notion came. I think of that leader sometimes and wonder how they might be dealing with data overload, and how it is changing their world.

Having the right information at the right time can impact your business deeply; it has always been that way. As we slowly shift to a world where the customer is in the driver seat and employees are increasingly offered the agency they need to keep those customers happy, we can't simply hope we're right anymore. So here we are with big data. What are we doing with it?

Back in August, Gurjeet Singh of Ayasdi, noted an important reality in a Fast Company post titled How Big Data Conceals the Next Big Thing

"Despite a wealth of data, decision-making today is harder, not easier. The issue is not the size of data, but the complexity. While data-crunching tools have become faster and better able to deal with large volumes of data over the years, they still all begin with an Analyst and a query."

We're in a place of growing awareness and evolution. While the notion of data dashboards that allow us multiple facets of discovery is deeply attractive, we still need to be smart enough to know what to look for if we are to discover it. Right now, we're facing a shortage of data scientists and analysts, who might help us get closer to the answers.

Sorting complexity is something that equations and computational data excel at, and in all but the most sophisticated of labs we still have important challenges relative to perspective and context because of it. I believe we are in need of checks and balances that take into account other important studies that help us relate to the data and make better decisions; for example sociology, psychology and anthropology.

We're at what I like to think of as the diet pill stage relative to big data -- in the same way we've been with ERP, knowledge management and social. Meaning, if we buy it off the shelf and assign a specialist to it, our organizations will be transformed and will enjoy all of the benefits instantly, despite any pesky cultural challenges. Sounds compelling, no?

On the other side of that sunny assessment, we're at a place of opportunity to figure out the best way to yield real information from our data. In the noise of the big data solutions story, we need to keep in mind the very thing that I was asking that senior leader; the one who believed good leaders didn't need quality information to lead. I had asked that he engage enough with his team that data he was receiving might be assessed with meaningful context to support informed decisions.

At this stage in the game, we can expect to see a lot of promises and assertions about *the way* to do big data. But, it is important to always remember how people are factored into these solutions, and that positive change requires depth, engagement and a willingness to shift. We've all got some learning to do.

Image courtesy of ra2studio (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Interested in more from Megan? Be sure to check out her recent article Are We Done With Email?