Leadership in the age of Big Data


There’s nothing like a good dose of data talk to get the blood flowing for a nerd like me. I was at a Data Science Summit on October 19 at the University of Central Florida, where speakers and panelists spoke about how to make our homes, workplaces, cities, roads, nation and world operate more effectively through the use of data.

According to a study by global management consulting firm Accenture and quoted in Forbes magazine as one of the top statistics on today’s data trends, 79 percent of enterprise executives say companies that do not embrace Big Data will lose their competitive position and could face extinction. About 83 percent of respondents said their organizations have pursued Big Data projects to seize a competitive edge.

And large enterprises are watching small companies closely because Big Data can be an equalizer in business. Consider this quote from a blog on IBM’s Big Data and Analytics Hub: “Not every startup is going to become a world-changing behemoth, but when a small, agile company hits on a truly disruptive idea, it can transform an entire industry. That’s a serious concern for market leaders, who fear that their dominant position could be eroded in just a few years if they fail to evolve at the pace of these nimble new competitors.”

At the Data Science Summit, Dr. Lea Shanley from the Chapel Hill area of North Carolina led a panel about “Smart Cities – Building a Real Tomorrowland.” She’s a co-executive director of the South Big Data Innovation Hub, one of four hubs nationwide sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The panel discussed topics ranging from how personal devices can be used to track people’s movements to how organizations can maintain a diverse science workforce.

The panelists highlighted today’s use of data in all kinds of careers. “This is like the golden age of digital and data analytics,” said Michael Tschanz, director of technology and analysis at the Walt Disney Company. His job is to study how to use data in theme park transportation, rides and animatronics.

He spoke about how fortunate today’s UCF students are to be able to study data using today’s technology. Amen.

I remember taking computer science courses in the mid-1980s at the University of Florida. We didn’t have laptop and desktop computers. Instead, we stood in line for a chance to sit at a keyboard and punch holes into IBM cards that would form a stack we could then load into a machine to read. That machine would spit out a paper rendering of a computer program we had written, with each punch card representing one data point. Carrying those cards across campus was a challenge. They were bound by rubber bands, and if you dropped the stack, cards would fly out everywhere, out of order, and that meant starting over. Yes, we’ve come a long way.

Another panelist expressed the same sentiment: “What a great time to be alive. For those who love data, there’s never been a better time.” That was Shane Mickey, vice president of strategic planning at Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas.

At the magazine we’re using data to streamline production of the print publication, led by our publisher, Cherise Czaban, and our communications manager, Meaghan Branham. We’re also using data to gauge the reach of our digital initiatives, including our digital magazine, website and social media, under the leadership of our digital brand manager, Elyssa Coultas.

There are so many applications to big data. No matter what job you’re in or what kind of organization you’re leading, data comes into play. How you manage it, and how you lead your team to harness its power, is up to you.

Have a great month!

About the author

Diane Sears

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the editor-in-chief of i4 Business. She is the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC and co-founder of the Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect current and future women business owners with growth opportunities. She also serves in leadership roles with the Women Presidents’ Organization, Women’s Business Development Council of Florida/Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and Athena PowerLink.

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