Big data – a different perspective

The October issue of Harvard Business Review went overboard on the need to get to grips with big data.  Andrew McAfee and Erick Brynjolfsson, in a paper entitled Big Data’s Management Revolution,  proposed that exploiting vast new flows of information can radically improve a company’s performance. In the December issue there is an excellent letter providing a rather different perspective on big data written by Bruce W. Dearstyne, an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies.  His letter is published on p16 and reads as follows

“This article promotes the vague concept that is getting traction these days in part because its name is a clever catchphrase. The authors assert that volume, velocity and variety are new, but actually they are just extensions of the dimensions and characteristics of large-scale, complex information and data that have been around for some time. The ‘five management challenges’ they pose – leadership, talent management, technology, decision making and company culture – seem common for any management issues. The authors refer to comnpanies that “characterized themselves as data driven” without specifying criteria. Observations like “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” and “Data-driven decisions tend to be better decisions” are certainly not new.  This all sounds like an escalation of data mining, analytics, and information-based decision making rather than something new. What is “the management revolution”? The authors need to tell us what makes this a departure, what is at stake and what concrete steps leaders and managers need to take.”

It will be interesting to see what the response is, if any, from the authors.

Martin White