Simon and Garfunkel on 'Datanoia'

Without storytelling, data can create overload paranoia and have a serious effect on steering the business.

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I had the good fortune of spending three days doing research on aggregated and data strategies at the Smart Cities Congress in Barcelona. Most city managers experience exponential political and privacy issues related to breaking down data silos to make their cities "smart." However many of their challenges are not unlike those of enterprise IT leaders trying to extract, and then socialize insight, from consolidated big data repositories. 

Peter Finnegan who heads up the Digital Masterplan for the City of Dublin, Ireland, summed it up using the famous lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer:"

"A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

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In my interactions with dozens of non-governmental chief data officers over the past two years, a resounding theme was what might be referred to as "Datanoia." This phenomena stems from the continuing battle between data insight vs. natural business intuition. This has lead to many cases of business being paralyzed by too much unfiltered data in much the same way as if they had no data at all. It's similar to the effect on steering when there's too much weight in the trunk.

The fact is that most chief data officers and their technology-minded business or government leaders totally overestimate the reception of data pumped out to the proletariat for the process of "data socialism." This has recently been referred to as the new "Fifth V" of big data know as "virality," or the ability for data to easily be "viralized" and passed efficiently through the organization for business value.

One data scientist reported that he received the same reception as a federal marshal serving a grand jury subpoena every time he delivered data to some of the lines of business. This data anxiety stemmed from a disconnect between the human factors of doing business and the unfeeling nature of quantitative data without a qualitative overlay.

Here are three tips for chief data officers and CIOs who hope to make a case for ROI on their big or open data analytics strategies:

  1. If you don't have a data storyteller within your IT organization, start interviewing tomorrow to pre-digest the data for business use. Not unlike the battle between CIOs and CMOs, the businesses will remain suspect of enterprise IT's ability to add value to data in much the same way marketing is suspicious about adding value to digital branding. Note that data visualization can be eye candy that tells no story.
  1. Develop an outside-in strategy for data collection and dissemination where the business leaders have intimate involvement. Granted, many of the businesses don't have a clue about the data insight they need to run their business. They need to be convinced that data science is not yet another HQ trick to police their intuition…in much the same way as chief digital officers are received.
  1. Many large enterprises mistakenly take a one-size-fits-all approach to data consumption and digestion in the businesses. Granted many millennials and digital natives might have a huge appetite for data. However, staid and conservative segments like insurance and automotive sales still rely on digital immigrants in mom-and-pop agencies or dealerships who are still learning to add a contact to their flip phone, no less access insight from new mobile data streams.

What experiences do you have with 'datanoia' validating Simon and Garfunkel's lyrics?

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