Information Demands People

With the right data you can make educated decisions, more captivating client experiences, and ultimately create stronger financial returns. With the right people, putting that information in context, you can do anything.

Earlier this week I sat amid ten thousand colleagues to hear IBM's vision for "Information on Demand." Rather than feel a time-warped déjà-vu, I was moved by the power of a theme whose time had come.

Taking a page from the playbook of magicians down the Las Vegas strip, my data geek friends and I were mesmerized by the analytical equivalent of people floating in mid-air (security-minded cloud computing). We gasped over sword swallowing (breaking down big data into manageable bites). We laughed at shtick (unveilings of dazzling technology). And we peeked behind the scenes at how organizations use business analytics to detect complications from brain injuries, save lives in war, and prevent international identity theft.

There was just one small problem--something people accustom to mining diamonds in data might not have even noticed. The term "social" was barely mentioned at all. Even if people weren't ready to hear it, it should have been said.

A smarter planet is relationship-driven and bolstered by data, not the other way around. Burgeoning complexity in every realm requires all types of creative smarts. Each IBMer I speak with knows that. Talks about it. Makes relationships central to solving complex problems.

"Social" may not be at the heart of IBM's business intelligence strategy (yet)--nor at the core of your company's approach to how people do their work. But as a society we can't afford to stay silent or isolated. As Merv Adrian says, "Tools don't provide guidance." People do. The data won't save us. People can.

Future prosperity necessitates people with the skills to work together, improve together, and create together. And these aren't different people than those who specialize in business analytics or finance, research or writing, or whatever career introverts are believed to fill. These are the same people, now given permission to be their full selves at work.

Human beings are social animals, expected to suppress their connection-oriented tendencies from 9-5. Doubt that? Ten thousand business analytics people participated at this event.

John Seely Brown and Estee Solomon Gray once said that the difference between companies who get it and companies who are "gotten by it" pivots not on information but on interpretation--the ability to make meaning out of still-emerging patterns.

When people engage with other people, we build our own insight into what's being discussed. Someone else's understanding complements ours, and together we start to weave an informed interpretation. Creativity about what more we can do springs to life. Together we are better.

No industry has another 20 years to figure this out. We're at an inflection-point right now. There is a rise of social everything. The creativity born from relationships is our most needed resource.

Cognos 10, a business intelligence and financial performance management platform, doesn't need a Facebook like button. Don't be surprised, though, if the next rev of Cognos includes ways to rate and socialize the value of queries and reports. At this moment in time, data tools don't require personal profiles, areas to post photos, or a way to link to your blog, either. That might be overkill as organizations adopt internal online communities to support and augment existing relationships.

Imagine the power of embedded microsharing, like Socialcast Reach, which plants a Twitter-like update box directly into the familiar business environment where decision-makers already look. It encourages both commenting and aggregating right where you work that can also be read in an activity stream where other people can wade in. With Lotus Connections shipping with Cognos, you can add some of these capabilities. I look forward to the next leap where our data and community dance together.

People collaborate naturally when they work on similar challenges and see they're not alone. The trouble is that when you're engrossed in the work, it takes time and attention to seek out people you need to learn from...time you don't always have. Sharing your business practices with others who could repeat them, in real-time, could also result in less work for each person. And the prospect of quickly learning that someone else has already solved that problem, or done the analysis can result in pure joy.

Social business need not be a distraction, or a productivity sinkhole. It shouldn't be so scary that it's only mentioned to get a laugh, "Oh, you know those people ... " Those people are us. You don't need me to tell you this. You have an account. You know. It's just not cool to admit to it if you want to be taken seriously at work.

And here's where we come back to IBM's Information on Demand conference, specifically, and the wider business world in general.

It is up to each of us to use whatever stage we have: in the spotlight or pulling strings from behind the scenes. Encourage your organizations to capitalize on the magic that happens when people connect.

Talk up the real-world times when you, personally, learned from someone at exactly the right moment. Tell others the consequences of keeping data to yourself. Showcase the fact that even quiet people have something to learn from listening and speaking up. Use tools at your disposal to garner insights from peers so you can make informed decisions. And then tell your technology vendors you want them to make it easier to engage.

The vision of information on demand, as a data-play, a set of analytics, is outmoded. People learn best through community, when we get information in context, and when it's available at the time and in the moment we need it most. [And that means "mobile," a word I wish I had heard more of too.] It is up to each of us, and all of us together, to use the information at our fingertips to elevate our practices.

We have an opportunity to talk, to listen, to analyze, to create, and to build relationships that capitalize on the complexity that will grow over time. Complex challenges are too big for people to solve alone. Information demands people come together now.

[Image: Flickr usersmaku]

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