ï»¿I was catching up on my back issues of the Economist last week and came across an article on big data. My first reaction was to be impressed if not somewhat surprised as to how the term has made its way into the mainstream conversation. Given the high tech roster of advertisers, it certainly makes economic sense (excuse the pun) for the magazine to address the topic, but they also did a reasonably good job of identifying why this investment area is important to how business get conducte
The article pointed out that, during the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton's staff combed massive amounts of data to craft "micro policies" that addressed sets of voters with common positions on a discrete set of issues. The micro policies wouldn't violate major positions of the campaign of course and allow the staff to articulate how these positions would serve these sets of voters. Manufacturing Insights has talked about similar capabilities enabled by big data - initiatives, opportunities, and corrective actions can be more accurately evaluated and executed in both the situational and strategic context.
The article also points out of course that Ms. Clinton did not win the election despite her staff's innovation with big data. Rather, it was Mr. Obama with an inspirational if vague message about hope that mobilized the voters and delivered the victory. This isn't to say that Ms. Clinton can't be inspiring or that President Obama doesn't see the value of big data (one only has to look at how government information is being made available to the public for agency innovation). The moral of the story for manufacturing executives is that big data doesn't automate management to the point of abdicating responsibility for crafting and effectively delivering a vision - let's call it Big Leadership.
Big leadership can be inspirational (see Apple), aspirational (Caterpillar), or even survival based (Ford). Regardless of the type, big leadership can deliver great results as measured by market capitalization. However, the power of big leadership must be accompanied by diligent execution. Executives are often frustrated by an organization's inability to deliver the vision they create while the people at the front lines, steeped in the latest improvement methodologies, look for more concrete strategic direction. Big data, more accurately the use of that data, is what bridges the strategic and situational and it will be those companies that can combine both inspiration and information that will harvest the greatest benefits.