Management Futures December round up

02 January 2014

Big Data is edging from being geek-talk to the subject of mainstream discussion. The idea that it is just about monitoring, or even ‘snooping’, is a two-dimensional view of a small part of the potential, and managers are waking up to the broader potential. As discussed in the December blog, its proper use by managers may be better described as ‘Big Intelligence’: enhancing our understanding of the organisation and its complex inter-relationships with customers and other relationships, often in real-time.

On the CMI Linked-in group discussion ‘What does Big Data mean to you?’, Adi Gaskell quoted Erik Brynjolfsson, describing the latest wave of computing technology by saying: ‘It’s as if the earth for the first time in history is having a skin connected to a nervous system that can detect what’s happening on the planet, anywhere on the planet.’

Our poll question on whether Big Data is a major breakthrough or a threat to privacy yielded a positive vote for the potential – though, of course, the two features are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

There is a further dimension, known as ‘deep learning’, described in a report on Radio 4’s Todayprogramme on 19 December. This encompasses artificial intelligence working in multi-media – not just ‘data’, but images and speech recognition. ‘What makes deep learning different from other kinds of machine learning is that the structure is loosely inspired by our understanding of the brain,’ Zoubin Ghahramani, professor of information engineering atCambridgeUniversity, said on the programme.

The evidence is that the US dominates the field with 83 of the world’s top digital businesses, as this presentation (see slide 9) suggests. The UK has just four.

Indeed, companies Google, Microsoft and IBM are investing heavily. The opportunities for tailored, individual marketing are immense, so the learning challenge for managers who do not have time for a PhD in information engineering is considerable. CMI researchto be published in January shows that managers don’t rate their knowledge and expertise around Big Data very highly. As its importance grows, the training and development challenge is huge, and may be under-estimated.

The business models with which we are familiar seem certain to be undergoing yet further radical change, comparable to that brought about by the initial spread of internet use in the 1990s, and the more recent ‘Web 2.0’ innovations.

What previous waves of innovation taught us is that you do not have to be an expert in order to keep track of the major developments and their implications; and that neglecting to keep up – for companies and individual managers alike – can mean the difference between success and failure. 

Submitted by Philip Wood

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