New Data, Same Old Dumb Bosses: 3 Lessons - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
IT Life
Commentary
12/29/2014
08:06 AM
Grumpy IT Guy
Grumpy IT Guy
Commentary
100%
0%

New Data, Same Old Dumb Bosses: 3 Lessons

Corporate overlords finally take an interest in data. Too bad they don't understand it and will be tricked by crafty short-timers.

Top 10 Social Media Fails Of 2014
Top 10 Social Media Fails Of 2014
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Look! Data everywhere! Import it from your phone app; slice and dice it from your website; and soon, you will need a "warehouse" for Internet of Things data. Time, energy, and money: all targeted at nothing less of a goal than True Understanding of Customers and Business Direction. But since when did more data and better tools change the way that dumb people act? Let us review three lessons.

First lesson: Correlation is not causation. Yes, smart companies have been using big data and analytics in innovative ways. But did the big data make the companies smart, or did smart companies start using big data? It is like a four-year-old trying to put on makeup: it is highly unlikely that dumb companies are going to start getting good results because they start using the same tools as the grown-ups. A bunch of face smears and mama chuckling is about all you will see.

Second lesson: Metrics don't motivate. Give me a data collection source, the ability to set metrics, and the power to tie the metrics back to compensation, and I will move ... people to act dumb. I have seen this again and again in my career. A performance metric is not the same thing as whole-picture motivation.

[Is it the apps? Or is it you? Read Technology Training: Why We're In Hell.]

Lazy, dumb bosses don't want to do the hard work involved in performance evaluation, so they turn to metrics. "Oh, your first call resolution is down this month, I can't give you a good evaluation." "All I asked was that you increase the profitability." Except smart employees learn how to game the system. Ask them to close work orders quickly in order to get a good review, and they damn well will. At the expense of customers, if necessary. Ask them to increase profitability and judge them on that, and you will see that they will increase profitability. At the expense of the long-term well-being of the company, the customer, their fellow employees, you name it.

Third lesson: Data misdirection often wins. "Hi! Here are my three data points that support my position. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain while we ignore the other five data points that undermine my position." Through trickery and deceit, the crafty among those of us at BigCorp have used data misdirection to rise through the ranks. Don't worry, they haven't worked anywhere longer than two years, and they will be gone by the time anyone notices that things are not as they seem.

All of this adds up to "data-washing." Lazy executives go as gooey-eyed as a nerd on his first prom date when they hear about data. Data looks like it gives easy answers. Data looks like pushing a button. Data looks like open-wallet-get-results.

But no. IT does not work like that.

It is not puppy love that is needed. It is tough love. Do not enable the puppy love.

Tell execs: Stop thinking that you can data-wash your initiative. Stop thinking that you can short-circuit a broken business process by collecting more data and adding analytical tools.

Ask them if they think that you can push a button and break new ground on a new factory? Then ask them why they believe that data can make everything better with a push of the button? "Data" looks a lot like servers and hard drives and people bulldozing business process and steamrollering stupidity.

Tell them: any successful data solution will only be 20% technology, and 80% sweat equity, with a lot of the sweat equity coming from THEM.

Then see if they are still in puppy love.

Apply now for the 2015 InformationWeek Elite 100, which recognizes the most innovative users of technology to advance a company's business goals. Winners will be recognized at the InformationWeek Conference, April 27-28, 2015, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Application period ends Jan. 16, 2015.

Grumpy IT Guy avoided historic disasters and clueless people while working his way up the IT ranks, but he retained his keen sense of humor. He now leads an IT organization somewhere in America, as part of the FBI's Grump Protection Program. Need advice? Send questions to ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
tzubair
50%
50%
tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
12/31/2014 | 10:46:16 AM
Re: Data Washing
"But much more often people restrict data to protect their role, or to avoid all risk -- reasons that aren't good enough given the opportunity that comes from sharing.  "

@Chris: I completely agree with you that the benefits are far greater than the risks. However, to counter the risk, we must ensure that adequate training is given to all people handling the data so that they are aware of the risk and the value of ensuring data protection.
ChrisMurphy
50%
50%
ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
12/31/2014 | 9:24:45 AM
Re: Data Washing
It's true there are legit, regulatory reasons to restrict data sharing, @tzubair. But much more often people restrict data to protect their role, or to avoid all risk -- reasons that aren't good enough given the opportunity that comes from sharing.  
impactnow
50%
50%
impactnow,
User Rank: Author
12/30/2014 | 3:09:15 PM
Re: Always amusing

Unfortunately Data manipulation is a worldwide problem and not just a problem in corporations and the private sectors it can also be an issue with government data as well. All data has issues its how these issues are interpreted and handled that determines the value of the data and the conclusions made from it.

GrumpyITGuy
100%
0%
GrumpyITGuy,
User Rank: Strategist
12/30/2014 | 2:36:53 PM
Re: Always amusing
Yes. It is true. Only American-owned companies act dumb. None of us have ever seen a multinational corporation that we have worked for act in any manner but highly smart. 

And then, I woke up. 

;)
tzubair
50%
50%
tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2014 | 2:09:58 PM
Re: Big data now folded, spindled, and mutilated
"Big data can lead to big mistakes if the wrong people use it either maliciously or even mistakenly. Bosses and employees both need to be aware of how data can be used to support just about anything."

@kstarton: I think this is exactly why one has to be an expert in data sciences and not just know how to use the tools for analyzing data. The outputs can be flawed but if you know how exactly it was calculated you'd be able to identify the flaws and make a wiser decision compared to the one that the system offered you.
tzubair
50%
50%
tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2014 | 2:05:51 PM
Re: Data Washing
"Data washing gets easier when only select people have access to the data in discussion, or when groups are working off multiple versions of the same data"

@Chris: But then companies restrict the access to data to employees on purpose to ensure that people only see data that's relevant to them. Of course this is done to reduce the risk of data being misused by people who're not authorized to do so.
Ariella
100%
0%
Ariella,
User Rank: Author
12/29/2014 | 4:58:54 PM
Re: Always amusing
@asksqn Is there less of that in corporations based in other parts of the world?
impactnow
100%
0%
impactnow,
User Rank: Author
12/29/2014 | 4:46:39 PM
Data Manipulation

Very true and very sad. Data washing is becoming the trend for so many when big data is the must have. Unfortunately it just harms the value of data profession. When analytics are used to make decisions that involve people like performance reports and surveys in restaurants employees always find a way to game the system. A great analytics system is one that cannot be easily manipulated for someone's agenda unfortunately I have found that yet.

asksqn
50%
50%
asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 4:45:35 PM
Always amusing
LOL I'm going to surmise that grumpy IT guy works for an American corporation since his analysis of his company has all the earmarks of the standard American all fluff/puff/smoke/mirrors crap of doing business. 
kstaron
50%
50%
kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 11:36:34 AM
Big data now folded, spindled, and mutilated
There are white lies, damnable lies and statistics. Data can be mauled, folded, and mutilated into almost any shape. And people that don't understand things like correlation and causation and going to follow mutilated data off the end of a cliff for all the good it does them. Big data can lead to big mistakes if the wrong people use it either maliciously or even mistakenly. Bosses and employees both need to be aware of how data can be used to support just about anything.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Commentary
Study Proposes 5 Primary Traits of Innovation Leaders
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  11/8/2019
Slideshows
Top-Paying U.S. Cities for Data Scientists and Data Analysts
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  11/5/2019
Slideshows
10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  11/1/2019
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
State of the Cloud
State of the Cloud
Cloud has drastically changed how IT organizations consume and deploy services in the digital age. This research report will delve into public, private and hybrid cloud adoption trends, with a special focus on infrastructure as a service and its role in the enterprise. Find out the challenges organizations are experiencing, and the technologies and strategies they are using to manage and mitigate those challenges today.
Video
Current Issue
Getting Started With Emerging Technologies
Looking to help your enterprise IT team ease the stress of putting new/emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning and IoT to work for their organizations? There are a few ways to get off on the right foot. In this report we share some expert advice on how to approach some of these seemingly daunting tech challenges.
Slideshows
Flash Poll