KISS, Data overload and Common Sense.

I saw this article in the Wall Street Journal. Please read it here (http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2013/02/19/its-not-just-the-data-stupid/?mod=wsj_ciohome_cioreport#). It is a fascinating read!

 

[Art Langer]

Art Langer

Guest Contributor

When I first started in the technology field some 35 years ago, we had a common acronym, KISS, which stood for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

The purpose of the phrase was to remind IT professionals that they needed to speak with people using basic business language. One’s ability to lose the IT jargon was critical, especially when presenting to business executives and managers. The message remains true today—most certainly for those CIOs who need to articulate the strategic value of their IT organizations to executives who want higher returns and lower costs.

But it’s not so simple.

We are being overwhelmed with the use of digital data to make decisions. You can’t read much these days without immediately seeing buzzwords like “Big Data,” “Business Analytics,” or “Business Intelligence.” Discussing process issues is passé; how to deal with data is the “in” thing for business discussions, especially at board meetings.

In a recent column, I cited some examples where data only adds complexity to decision making. More and more, I’m seeing other ways in which we’ve become increasingly reliant on data testing. For example, you can’t even get a basic call-center job without being asked to take a battery of online assessments that determine if you are a match.

These tests are really about identifying the existence of an outlier—a word that no analytics person wants to use. Human resources folks usually call it data matching, but from where I stand, they are simply eliminating people that differ from those that they hire—they eliminate those that deviate from the norm.

I recently saw an article on CareerBuilder.com that addressed the issue from the recruiting side. Rob Sentz, vice president of marketing for EMSI, highlighted the difficulties that Big Data can bring—and how it could lead to bad decisions.

“The biggest limit to big data is our ability to interpret it. People need to understand why they are using data. What is the end goal?” Sentz said. “Data is also like an assembly of facts, which aren’t necessary the same thing as truth. If facts are poorly interpreted, it could lead to the wrong conclusions.”

Consider some people who could be classified as outliers: Albert Einstein could not get an appointment as a professor, so he got a job in the Swiss patent office, where his deviancy from the norm led him to a miracle year of inventions that changed the scientific world. Winston Churchill, at age 65, was originally considered much too old and difficult to work with to be a prime minister; he went on to save England during World War II.

Outliers can change the world, yet in the world of Big Data, they would never have a chance—quants would cancel them out for diverging from the trend. Seems to me we could have lost some wars depending on such Big Data people.

Don’t get me wrong: Data is critical. But history suggests that it plays tricks on our ability to objectively understand all of the variables that are at play in the world. So be careful: Although many professionals tell you that the data is only one of many decision points, I have found that too many people rely too heavily on its information. But as we have seen, the data can lie!

Dr. Arthur Langer sits on three faculties at Columbia University and oversees executive masters programs in IT management. He is also founder and chairman of Workforce Opportunity Services, a nonprofit that helps companies build stronger talent pipelines by training underserved young adults and military veterans

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About Vic Levinson
Telecommunications and IT professional with over 20 years experience in Business Telecommunications. Specializing in voice over IP (VoIP) for business: hosted VoIP, business VoIP phone systems, SIP providers, carriers, T1's - the works. Founded Prime Telecommunications in 1993 and providing business communications solutions. Cloud Applications- everything from hosted network security, hosted Disaster Recovery, hosted printer management, data centers and colocation solutions for businesses.

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