Leadership

Big Data’s Big Trust Problem

By / Apr 16, 2019 (Peshkova/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Despite all the chatter about big data, distrust of the concept still lingers for executives in multiple contexts. One reason: Sometimes the data gets in the way of the big ideas.

Perhaps all the hype about big data changing the way organizations work has backfired?

In recent years, there’s been a lot of growing evidence that leaders are becoming increasingly wary of data-driven advice.

For example, 2018 research from the tax and advisory firm KPMG International found that just 35 percent of respondents showed high levels of trust toward their organization’s use of data and analytics—while 92 percent of respondents fretted over the negative impact data points could have on an organization.

Speaking to ZDNet, KPMG’s national leader of data and analytics, Brad Fisher, noted that many organizations duplicate processes—one via machine and one by humans—out of distrust of the data being generated.

“That’s simply because many executives don’t have confidence that the insights are reliable and accurate,” Fisher said.

A more recent study on the issue, from the world of academia, found similar results. New Zealand’s Massey University, in an analysis of managers from large businesses in the country, found a gap between those who focus on data and those who don’t. Beyond general distrust of automation, a knowledge gap might be at play, according to lead researcher Dr. Nazim Taskin.

“Nearly two-thirds of the managers interviewed said they had no confidence or trust in big data, preferring to rely instead on their intuition and experience to make decisions,” Taskin said, according to a Massey University release. “One-quarter of participants also confessed they had only a modest knowledge of what big data is or what it can do.”

But on the other hand, many managers can point to an over-reliance on data as helping to cause serious issues. Mistakes can be made very easily and can lead to inaccurate conclusions. A 2016 report from the journal Genome Biology speaks to this point: The study found that roughly one-fifth of scientific papers in the world of genetics have inaccuracies that were introduced because of data-rendering errors created by Microsoft Excel.

Mistakes happen—people are human.

But for some, turning to data can come at the cost of pure creativity, something that excels with gut feelings, as iconic British advertising executive Sir John Hegarty noted recently when speaking to Marketing Week.

“Data is great at giving you information, giving you knowledge; but it doesn’t give you understanding and that is its great failing,” he told the outlet. “What we need is greater creativity and what we’re doing today is reducing the power of creativity.”

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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