Is Analytics Leading Us to the New Age?

IBM is telling Barron’s that analytics is the next big thing, and they’ve got enough historicity in the “correct” column of the tech ledger that we have to take them seriously.  IBM and Northwestern are even going to have an academic program focused on analytics. The only problem I have with the statement is that I think the rest of the examples that IBM’s Palmisano used to illustrate his claim are a little behind the curve.  The intelligence that lets computers win Jeopardy, so the theme runs, makes better decisions for us all.  The truth is more complicated.

There is an issue in drawing actionable conclusions from masses of data, to be sure.  There have been a number of recent stories on how various strategies for recognizing correlations might move us in new directions.  As somebody who’s been modeling market behavior for three decades now, I’m well aware of the fact that finding patterns in data is complicated.  Certainly we could use improvements here, and certainly we could make better business decisions if we had better answers to the old questions.  Isn’t that what Jeopardy is about, after all?

The question is whether the old questions are the right questions, I think.  Paradigm shifts often don’t really shift paradigms, we just say they do.  The business data we’ve collected may not be the right data; the business framework that applies the decisions may be less than optimum.  In these cases, have we shifted the paradigm?  Analytics may solve the wrong problems faster, but if they are the wrong problems there’s a limit to how helpful that will be.

And help is needed if tech, in business applications, is to resume its normal trajectory of growth.  We have been a full decade now without a new kicker in tech spending, without a new paradigm to help us link IT and productivity in some novel way that would free more benefits to justify more costs—meaning more computers and networks.  It would sure be nice if IBM were right and it was only a matter of diving into our facts a little deeper and finding new meaning.  But I think we’re beyond that.

We never had a ten-year period when IT spending growth was pegged at the bottom of its historical relationship with GDP growth.  We always swung up immediately after we turned down…always until ten years ago.  I think the fact that we broke a pattern that’s lasted through the whole computer age is an indication that looking deeper, meaning looking backward, isn’t the complete solution.  To create a new dimension in business technology we need to empower the worker in more insightful ways.  Fortunately a vehicle is presenting itself.

I think the new paradigm has more to do with Apple than with IBM.  If everyone has a gadget that’s their literal window on the world, then we can see a lot we could never see before.  We can do things we could never have done.  That’s the key transformation.  Yes, that will open a need for a new vision of analytics because we’ll be asked questions that, like a Jeopardy match, demand an immediate answer.  Why?  Because those questions will be asked at the instant the answer is needed.  If tech is integrated into our lives, then it advances at the pace of life, and life’s pace is relentless and accelerating.

We here at CIMI Corporation are entering our third decade, as a company, as a source of strategic market insight, and as a publisher of a network strategy journal.  Truth be told, I’d never have guessed that I’d see a Netwatcher with a Volume 30 designation.  But if you’d have told me that a computer would eventually have beat a Jeopardy champion, I’d have believed that even thirty years ago.  There’s a lesson here.  The things that are hardest to touch are the things that touch us personally, regularly, daily.  Technology’s real revolution, the one that’s underway now, is the revolution that makes tech and us into a virtual and real world that coalesce in a thousand wonderful ways.  That new world will empower new analysis, but analysis won’t be the driver of that world.  We will be, and from us the drive will extent through our personal tech appliances/windows and change every aspect of how we live and work.  Right beside us, right in our pockets, is the leading edge of that new age.

IBM sees a glimpse, and so does Apple.  The question for 2012 will be “Who sees enough?”  Can a company grab onto this massive wave of change and ride it to what could be a whole new level of success?  Who do you think it will be?  IBM, or maybe Apple, or Microsoft, or Cisco or Alcatel-Lucent?  Somebody off the grid?  I suspect that we’ll answer that question next year.


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