Is the Science of Big Data Killing the Art of Good Management?

by Jeff Wiener on September 25, 2015

Businesses are becoming ever more reliant on Big Data analysis to plan for the future, connect with customers, and make important business decisions. While there’s no question that such data analysis holds a veritable treasure trove of information that, if used correctly, can be a boon to any company moving forward, I have to wonder if our growing dependence on Big Data is robbing of us a key component of business management and effective customer relations: the human factor.

Simply put, with data analysis playing an increasingly important role in business, are savvy managers who observe market trends, act on gut feelings, and seem to have their finger on the pulse of the industry going the way of the dodo bird, destined for extinction…or at least irrelevance?

Not only that, but I have to wonder if dependence on information is robbing the business world of the motivation to innovate, as from my experience, there are a host of intangibles not calculated or factored by data analysis that go into recognizing not only current trends, but future trends as well.

Of course there’s no shortage of people who will say say that your business simply can’t succeed without Big Data, stating (but not proving) that analysis is essential to innovation. In fact, as data analysis firm Sopheon promotes itself: “As the amount of data inside organizations grows and more data becomes available from external sources, big data and analytics will become a key basis for your innovation and competitive success.”

Not only that, but Jean-Paul Isson, writing on Analytics and Innovations for the American Management Association stated that, “data intelligence from multiple sources, intelligence integration, or data convergence is the lifeblood of innovation in analytics. Cutting-edge companies are leveraging ways to understand, explain, and predict customer behaviour by combining site analytics with social media analytics, mobile analytics, predictive models powered by text analytics, customer buying behaviour, information captured via CRM systems, information gathered via conversations with the service team, email exchanges, customers’ site reviews, site behaviour, and social media behaviour.” [Italics mine]

I’ll say in response that while I don’t doubt the power of data analysis, there is still room, lots of room in fact, for the role of the human being in determining customer trends and predicting the course of market development.

I think of business a lot like sports; sure there’s something to be said for data heavy analysis of players, analysis that can play a big role in determining how best to build a team, but there’s still something to be said for a manager or coach recognizing real-time intangibles that can’t be quantified by analytics and making decisions based on that information that helps the team win games. Heck, if all we needed was Big Data analysis, why have managers or coaches or company Presidents at all? Why not just program machines with analysis capabilities to collect, correlate, and deploy relevant data (lets hope I didn’t just predict the future)?

Again, recognizing the power of data analysis for improving customer relationships, helping determine market trends, and predicting future trends, I’m fully on board with implementing a better system to analyze the data businesses collect on customers daily, using it in a positive way to enhance the customer experience and business operations. But in my mind that can only go so far, as what you still need are actual people who actually care about helping people to use the data to better connect with customers, that human factor wherein those sorts of customer service skills or market awareness are not a science, but an art, something intangible that is fostered from within.

In fact, I would argue that the human factor is as important as any data analysis in customer relationship management, innovation, and determining market trends, and as much as the business world is obsessed with so-called Big Data, perhaps they should be just as obsessed with fostering the art of innovative ideas and helping foster genuine human beings who bring a host of essential intangibles to the business world.

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