A Bird in the Hand: Are You Making Use of the Wealth of Data at Your Disposal?

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March 2011
In This Issue:

"Your data is the 'bird in your hand' that you may not even know you hold -- or have not yet developed the skills to hold."

-- Gabriele Piccoli, Editor

As all successful managers all over the world will tell you, knowledge is a critical organizational asset. As Thomas Watson Jr., the legendary chairman of IBM, recognized over 50 years ago: "All the value of [IBM] is in its people. If you burned down all our plants, and we just kept our people and our information files, we should soon be as strong as ever."1 At the heart of knowledge is, of course, data, and if there is one sure thing in today's world ... data is plentiful! We live in a world of sensors and computer-mediated interactions that produce heaps of data. Back in February 2009, in fact, we published an issue of Cutter Benchmark Review on what we called "digital data genesis."2 As I wrote in that issue, digital data genesis "represents the notion that organizations must, in order to stay competitive in the future, develop the ability to embed digital computing equipment and IT in organizational processes to serve goals other than transaction processing, thus creating data in digital form and capturing it at its inception." In that issue, contextualized in the manufacturing industry, we tried to conceptualized and report on the capabilities and competencies that a firm needs to engage in digital data genesis.

But what if we jump ahead and assume that a firm has been able to engage in digital data genesis and now has access to a wealth of organizational data? In fact, what if we assume that there is access to any piece of data the firm would care to track -- an assumption that is less far-fetched than it would appear at first glance and, if you think about it, the core assumption behind Google's ultimate vision. Then, I would argue, we face an even greater challenge: organizing and managing all such data in a way that makes it amenable to value extraction and effective decision making.

Helping us make sense of the management of large volumes of data, or "Big Data," is one of our favorite academic contributors. Richard T. Watson is the J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy in the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia (USA). Among other things, Rick is former President of the Association for Information Systems and the current Research Director for the Advanced Practices Council of the Society of Information Management, a forum of senior IS executives. Rick is a good friend and a real thinker, a person who is very willing to look at things differently, even if what he has to report is unpopular. He is very creative, and his work often has me scratching my head, saying, "I did not think of that!" Coauthoring with Rick in this issue is Research Assistant Tyler Williamson, a senior honors student at the University of Georgia pursuing a bachelor's degree in MIS.

Our view from the practice side in this issue is provided by April Reeve, Enterprise Architect and Program Manager for EMC Consulting. April brings to us more than 25 years' expertise in the financial services industry, with a plethora of practical knowledge in working with massive amounts of data. She is certified by Data Management Association International as a Data Management Professional (CDMP) and certified by ISACA in both Enterprise Governance of IT (CEGIT) and as an Information Systems Auditor (CISA).

Rick and Tyler's piece begins with a fascinating overview of the ways in which the use of data over time has changed in response to the shifting needs of different economies, from subsistence through sustainability. Focusing on the present, the service economy and its emphasis on customer creation, as well as on the forthcoming sustainability era, Rick and Tyler address the three universal strategic challenges facing all organizations: demand risk, innovation risk, and inefficiency risk. They provide us with six case studies to illustrate how firms are dealing with these challenges in the context of service and sustainability economies as well as the central role data plays in these strategies. I think you will find their examples interesting, bringing the risks and opportunities to life and allowing us to see how companies we know are addressing them. Equally valuable are the concrete set of suggestions with which they conclude to help you think about how best to derive value from the data that you can, or you already do, collect during the normal course of business.

April's piece is thorough and clear. It complements Rick and Tyler's work wonderfully. Beginning with answers to a few of the most significant questions we must ask if we are to successfully use Big Data as a resource, April provides us with clear definitions to help us get started. Understanding what Big Data comprises and what the benefits are of leveraging it, and then examining concrete examples from current organizations, gives us a framework with which to comprehend the set of challenges posed by the impending data deluge. Following her overview of these points, April then moves on to discuss the technology implications of data collection, querying, and analysis. Particularly valuable is her focus on technology.

There's a lot to think about when contemplating the value and use of the mass of data that is undoubtedly accumulating every day within your firm. In this issue of CBR, we provide you with a solid footing for understanding and moving forward with your own deliberations. In a manner of speaking, your data is the "bird in your hand" that you may not even know you hold -- or have not yet developed the skills to hold. Reading what our experts have to say on the subject will provide a mental framework for approaching the decisions necessary to take advantage of the wealth of information at your fingertips.

ENDNOTES

1Quinn, James Brian. Intelligence Enterprise. Free Press, 1992.

2Piccoli, Gabriele (ed.). "Manufacturing and Digital Data Genesis: A First Look at an Emerging Trend." Cutter Benchmark Review, Vol. 9. No. 2, 2009.

ABOUT THE EDITOR

There's a lot to think about when contemplating the value and use of the mass of data that is undoubtedly accumulating every day within your firm. In this issue of CBR, we provide you with a solid footing for understanding and moving forward with your own deliberations. In a manner of speaking, your data is the "bird in your hand" that you may not even know you hold -- or have not yet developed the skills to hold. Reading what our experts have to say on the subject will provide a mental framework for approaching the decisions necessary to take advantage of the wealth of information at your fingertips.