I found a note in a story about the latest Gartner technology hype report fascinating:

But even the two new hype cycle entrants reflect the same struggles businesses have been dealing with since analytics and BI began — how to manage data effectively and how to create consistency across the enterprise.

Specifically, Bitterer has observed a growing interest among businesses in the information capabilities framework concept. While they may be familiar with some BI processes, businesses tend to fall down when developing a model for dealing with semantics. Without precise terminology adopted by the entire enterprise, organizations face great difficulty trying to accurately define simple things like customer, product or supplier — and that makes it difficult when measuring and reporting on financial metrics.

It’s interesting that the biggest issues in technology have little to do with technology, and more to do with defining the meaning of language. It’s impossible to make sense of data unless there is some baseline agreement on what the data should actually mean. It should be obvious that words can have radically different meaning from one group to another – it takes the skill of collaborative effort to define what words mean for an organization.

This is the challenge in the age of Big Data – when confronted by large data sets, it often takes the experience and expertise of a variety of people to give data meaning for an organization. In scientific research this is the reason for refereed journals and publications – it allows a wider audience access to the data and conclusions for others in the hope of building and refining. Dealing with business data can be somewhat more difficult because there may be ingrained cultural differences in organizations – the “IT Department”, the “Sales Department”, the “Marketing Department”, etc.

Richard Feynman noted the challenges of solving big problems in specialized organizations:

In this age of specialization men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another. The great problems of the relations between one and another aspect of human activity have for this reason been discussed less and less in public. When we look at the past great debates on these subjects we feel jealous of those times, for we should have liked the excitement of such argument. The old problems, such as the relation of science and religion, are still with us, and I believe present as difficult dilemmas as ever, but they are not often publicly discussed because of the limitations of specialization.

Richard Feynman, remarks at a CalTech lunch forum.1

A challenge to organizations in actually measuring and quantifying data is to overcome their own ingrained specialization in order to make that data useful for organizational decision making.

  • Quoted from Richard Feynman’s remarks given at a CalTech Lunch Forum in 1956