Big Data and the end of the middle management

Big data as substitution for people? That sounds like a cyberneticist’s daydream to you? Michael Rappa, Director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics at the North Carolina State University does not think so. In this FORBES interview, he explains the advantages of a “data-driven corporate culture”:

“Data has a potentially objective quality. It accelerates consensus,” said Rappa. “If you feel that you can trust your data scientists and the models they build, if your team can buy into a culture that values data, the grey areas that open the door to political infighting disappear.”

Actually, I don’t buy this. Data (and especially data visualizations) certainly have a kind of objective aura. They seem to just be there. The whole micropolitical process that went into defining measures, indicators and algorithms is hidden behind this objective aura of (big) numbers. But where there were fights about corporate strategy, tactics and processes, there will also be data-based fights about these things – although maybe a bit nerdier and more esoteric and difficult for the rest of the management to understand.

A more pessimistic view is proposed by the Columbia Journalism Review: Here data-based decision-making (aka “clickocracy”) is seen as a threat to journalistic quality because journalists will start to optimize their own writing the minute they feel they are monitored in a big data clickstream:

[A]udiences now provide feedback unintentionally through online metrics (the running tally of which articles get clicked on the most). Reporters—who fear that a lack of clicks could cost them their jobs—watch these tallies, as do editors and publishers, because higher metrics mean higher online ad revenues.