Friday, 12 September 2014

Data and the deskilling of business leaders

Maybe some top dogs play down data because of its implications for their status and salaries

Everyone at the top of UK business is taking data seriously, but maybe not as seriously as they should according to a new report published by PwC.
The findings of Gut & gigabytes, written by the Economist Intelligence Unit, might not surprise everyone but indicates that there have been serious limitations on the move towards the data driven business. In short, its survey shows that decision-makers in big companies take data analysis seriously, but it comes third in importance behind their own intuition and experience and the advice and experience of others inside the company.
The report cites reasons for this that will be familiar. There’s scepticism about the quality, accuracy and completeness of data, with a sense that it hasn’t improved much in recent years. There’s also uncertainty about which data is really useful and a fear of getting lost in a deluge.
These are valid concerns, but I suspect there’s something that many C-suite leaders won’t acknowledge: they don’t like the idea of data having more value than what’s inside their heads.
Corporate business is dominated by high level executives who play heavily on their personal capabilities, obtaining high status and massive salaries from a perception that they can provide outstanding insights and prowess in decision-making, way above the abilities of more ordinary souls. They’re paid for their exceptional minds. But if their minds begin to take second place to the lessons provided by data, they become less valuable.
An increasing emphasis on data analysis creates the potential for a partial deskilling of business leaders. If their companies really become data driven organisations all that personal expertise won’t seem so important, and they won’t seem so valuable to shareholders.  I’m not suggesting that the whole C-suite structure is going to crumble, but there could be a shift in the balance that leads to a long term reduction in status and salaries.
I suspect that some business leaders hold half-formed, unspoken thoughts about all this, and don’t like the idea of trusting too much in data. And they might not be in a hurry to find ways over the barriers that they have identified.
Cynical? I suppose so. But cynicism has always been one of the major forces in business.
Mark Say is a UK based writer who covers the role of information management and technology in business. See

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