On the Complicated Relationship of Data and Management and Foreseeable Role of Data&Digital

The dawn of the data era

Do you still remember the years before COVID-19 and Russian war against Ukraine? What were be discussing about? It depends on the context and scope naturally. If the scope is politics, the likely answers relate to Brexit and the change in the US Oval Office.

If the scope is management, Big Data and IoT (Internet of Things) were some of the crucial buzzwords in business talk and research. The underlying logic is very clear, the more we get data about our surroundings, the better informed we are, and – consequently – the better decisions we can make free of human bias and error. To convert data into information (treat the data so that we know which patterns it contains) and further to knowledge (understand what action we should take based on the information), intelligent systems based on neural networks, machine learning, and artificial intelligence would offer modern manager a hand for better action. Furthermore, knowledge with experience gives soil for individual and organizational wisdom. Thus, starting from the data, the four layers of DIKW pyramid (e.g., Rowley, 2007) have been covered.

The reality has unfolded a bit otherwise. In some cases, big data was not big enough due to a lack of trustable measurements of many issues that the management needs to consider when choosing the action in the situations the company encounters. In some cases, the data was so massive and variable that it exceeded the company´s capability to analyze and understand it. One of the crucial areas of high early interest, Internet of things (IoT), has been hyped a lot about for the last 10 years. However, IoT has fallen into the downward slope of disillusionment in the famous Gartner Hype Cycles that are published on a yearly basis.

Digital X as a phenomenon

Yet, companies live in the era of digital. The fundamental shift by Baiyere and Fuerstenau (2022) has been the change from “ICT Xs” to “Digital Xs”. In the early 2000s, the things related to data were largely handled by the companies´ ICT departments, headed by the ICT manager/director. At the following stage, the concept of Information Management and the job title of Chief Information Officer (CIO) were created. The modern concept of “Digital X” claims that the letter X can be replaced by any corporate function and that “Digital” is more than the data and ICT systems collecting and treating them, such as Digital Marketing, Digital User Experience, Digital HRM, Digital Security, etc. The shift has been stated to highlight the move from Business Process Management (BPM) and optimization of processes to the creation of new (customer) value. These digital processes are supervised increasingly by people carrying the title of Chief Digital Officers (CDO), who need the support of Data Managers to do their job well.

What have companies done to cash in the digital opportunity?

To attract high-potential employees and to convince investors and partners, companies need to show they are not deaf and blind to the digitalizing and more data-intensive operating environment. To address the need, various missions and programs aiming at data intensity have been launched, even by companies whose core offering is and is likely to remain in tangible products.  A random sample of major manufacturing firms in Finland gives us statements and published news headlines like:

  • Normet, a provider of advanced mining and tunnelling solutions, has chosen to implement the Ignizer decision intelligence platform from Ignize as an advanced support tool for central and local business owners. Ignizer said the technology is an AI and machine learning-based predictive analytics tool that uses historical business data from a wide range of sources to identify patterns and correlations between key indicators and business result”. (Schwerdweger, 2021)
  • Ponsse Data API is an innovative interface that provides relevant, accurate data about the forest machinery fleet for reporting, follow-up, and resource planning purposes. The groundbreaking idea behind PONSSE Data API is that the data gathered from individual forest machines is processed in a cloud environment and further provided to the customer’s IT systems. Out of this data, various reports can be created to enable efficient resource planning and appropriate scheduling of upcoming work.”(Ponsse, 2022)
  • Wärtsilä is strongly focused on digitalising its operations and customer offering. In this new position, Mr Ryan is to define, develop and execute Wärtsilä’s digital strategy, organisational blueprint, and related digital governance in close collaboration with the CEO and the Board of Management. He will also lead the Information Management (IM) organisation, which is today made up of more than 200 persons globally.” (Wärtsilä, 2016)
Conclusion of the literature and practice in managing by embracing data&digital

Despite the common thread of the stories of these companies – investment to the move towards a better usage of data as the fuel of the decision-making machine – the way the shift is verbalized varies: One can claim to be data-driven, data-supported, data-enhanced, and data-based. The phraseology around the issue is far easier than making data analytics part of daily management. As Dr Uğur Şahin , developer (with his spouse Dr Özlem Türeci ) of the Biontech-Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 said; “It is easy to say you are science- and data-based, but more difficult to be loyal to that statement” (Miller, Sahin & Tureci, 2022).  Of the abovementioned Finnish company cases at  least one has needed to take a timeout and see whether the projectized step to data intensity organized into an excellence center has to be rethought. When thanking the chief digital director that was leaving the company, Wärtsilä (2019) claimed to have taken “a long and noteworthy digital leap in its operations and offering during the past years. We have become a data-driven enterprise.”… “Wärtsilä’s board of directors intends to evaluate how the company’s digital organization will be organized for the future in such a way that it creates more and more value for customers and society”.

Seeing what´s next

As a closing statement – ironically – a new opening to the discussion can be proposed. One of the grand promises of data and analytics is that it saves time for all layers of management to invest in higher value-adding and strategic activities of motivating, showing the direction, and foreseeing the future, actions we like to label as leadership. Should there be research on the relationship between data, analytics, and leadership, or can we just assume there is no such relation? That might be possible to argue on, but as long as it is based on assumptions, we cannot claim to have data-backed (sic) knowledge on the non-existing role of data. Thus, let us hope the work by, e.g., Kalim (2021) in the field of education will find successors to include or exclude with a reason leadership in what comes to data-drivenness talk and practice. Some researchers like Ess (2020) even state that the focal point of research interest should be shifted to the next era which is post-digital. The idea in short – once companies across industries have invested into digital capabilities and tools, they do not offer competitive edge anymore. Thus, the question is: “What do we know that we can offer on top of systems, data, and analytics?”. The answer may be expressed all bluntly: “The human intelligence and touch”.

The future world of work may resist any dichotomies that try to simplify the reality by polarizing an operating environment where the characteristics of both ends – digital and non-digital – get blended. The post-digital era is likely to contain a lot of data and analytics, added with a returned interest on soft and human skills. As Spitzer put it already in 2001:” Both High Tech and High Touch will be of need. Research and education for that view in business management is scarce and infant, which sets a clear agenda for management research and practice.”

Juha Saukkonen D.Sc. (Econ.), Senior Lecturer of Management, School of Business, JAMK University of Applied Sciences.

References

Baiyere, A. &  Fuerstenau, D. (2022). Digital Practices. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2022, No. 1, p. 17258). Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510: Academy of Management.

Ess, C. (2020). From the digital to a post-digital era? In Life and the Law in the Era of Data-Driven Agency. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Kalim, U. (2021). The Growing Role of Big Data in Education and its Implications for Educational Leadership. International Journal of Research and Innovation in Social Science5(01), 257– 62.

Miller, J., Türeci, Ö., & Sahin, U. (2022). The Vaccine: Inside the Race to Conquer the COVID-19 Pandemic. St. Martin’s Press.

Ponsse (2022). Ponsse Data API. Accessible at: https://www.ponsse.com/ponsse-data-api#/ Retrieved 5.10.2022.

Rowley, J. (2007). The wisdom hierarchy: representations of the DIKW hierarchy. Journal of information science33(2), 163–180.

Schwerdtfeger, M. (2021). Normet to deploy Ignize decision intelligence platform. Mining Magazine (online). Retrieved 29.10.2022 from https://www.miningmagazine.com/data/news/1420736/normet-to-deploy-ignize-decision-intelligence-platform .

Spitzer, D. R. (2001). Don’t forget the high-touch with the high-tech in distance learning. Educational Technology41(2), 51–55.

Wärtsilä (2016, August 24).  Wärtsilä appoints Marco Ryan to lead digital development.  Wärtsilä Corporation, Stock exchange release. Retrieved 23.9.2022 from https://www.wartsila.com/media/news/24-08-2016-wartsila-appoints-marco-ryan-to-lead-digital-development

Wärtsilä (2019, July 18). Chief Digital Officer Marco Ryan to leave Wärtsilä. Wärtsilä Corporation, Stock exchange release. Retrieved 27.9.2022 from https://www.wartsila.com/media/news/18-07-2019-chief-digital-officer-marco-ryan-to-leave-wartsila-2491461.

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