Martyn Richard Jones

Oza dos Rios 9th June 2020


The purpose of language is to communicate—usually the conveyance of meaning from one entity to another. The value of communication is based on the availability of timely, appropriate and adequate information. In this way, it is positive. But communication can also be used to manipulate, deceive and confuse.

From experience, I know the manipulation of language is rife in IT. That’s nothing exceptional or particularly novel. Manipulation has been around ever since we learned how to say “I didn’t do nuffink, your honour.” But just because it has a tradition, it doesn’t mean that it should be embraced or applauded.

In this piece, I want to focus on three terms found in the top-ten list of abused words in IT. I’m talking strategy, innovation and value.

First, forget any management consulting nonsense about strategy. A majority of it is wrong, misleading or inadequate in one way or another.

Strategising is nothing more nor less than problem-solving. The driving imperative behind a strategy could be a significant public challenge such as climate change, a smaller business issue such as a merger or acquisition, or a global black swan, as with the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, strategies that do not set out to address in tangible and practical ways, a significant risky problem (whether a threat, an opportunity or both,) are not strategies.

Discount bold, high-minded and evangelising statements about the future; that is not a strategy. That’s just fluff. Strategising isn’t about posturing, and it isn’t about vacuous, cheap and cack-handed hyperbole and virtue-signalling. It’s not about wish-lists, aspirations or ambiguous values. This is just a diversion. Neither is it about a subset of economics, marketing or advertising. And it’s about more than aligning with market forces and exploiting markets. Strategies are plans that can be executed to fix something or to exploit something significant or even to fix and exploit something. Anything else is just doing stuff.

Now, what about that word innovation? Many people believe that innovation is about what innovators innovate. I say that this is just plain wrong. Innovation is both a process and an outcome.

Innovation is about inventions, developments and improvements that clients and users adopt and use.

Let me reinforce that. Innovation is what is adopted and continually used by clients and users.

If there is no adoption or use, then the so-called innovation isn’t innovative. It’s no more than facile marketing, an unrealisable expectation and an investment turkey. Many failed products have been incorrectly labelled as innovative. Just think of items such as the Edsel, Betamax, Apple Lisa and New Coke.

Despite that, people still cling to the belief that innovation, usefulness and applicability are synonymous. They aren’t.

Moving on. The same blanket notion that data has economic value is false. And it was concocted by some of the same folk who insisted, and without questioning the received-wisdom, that organisations must have only a single version of the data truth.

Of course, the fact that most organisations need multiple-versions of the truth to actually run their businesses was ignored by most management and IT actors. Why? Because it didn’t align with the dogma and it required thought and business knowledge to explain it.

So here we are, with data and its value. Despite the overreach of some data professionals, data at rest isn’t like money in the bank, and it certainly isn’t like oil. It’s not even like a line of credit. Money in the bank is money that works, money that is used to generate wealth, to fund business and to open up market opportunities.

Data at rest is just data at rest, they are data that have zero business value. They are working for nobody, not even for themselves.

Data has a value at the point where it has measurable time and place utility and is used. If it has no utility, it doesn’t hold economic value. If clients and users do not adopt and use those data, then it doesn’t drive anything, even innovation or economic value creation. Indeed, some data may actually be a liability. Data that are only retained, archived or discarded based on legal and policy requirements.

The mindless claims that all data has value and that the more data, the better, has also damaged the information and data architecture and management business. And by affinity, it has contributed to screwing up the IT industry.

Some people call it data value by design. It’s not value by design, it is negative bullshit by happenstance.

Data without value is like an old calendar, last year’s newspapers and a pork pie that is six months passed its best-by-date.

Big data exemplified better than anything else the corruption and manipulation of the terms strategy, innovation and value.

First, big data was going to be strategic, like never seen before. Big data was billed as the long-awaited secret-sauce that would solve all of the business problems that other data had failed to fix. But take a look at the many failed big data projects. You’d be surprised how many weren’t actually started because of any pressing business challenge. A lot of big data work has been done out of no better reason than fear. Fear that other people were doing big data and getting some magical business advantage from it.

Secondly, for many people, big data was an innovative technology that would help many businesses. And it would do so by to leveraging valuable unstructured data that came in unparalleled volumes, velocities and varieties, to address significant business problems.

Thirdly, all big data would have economic value and subjective expected utility.

The trouble is, none of these three claims was rational, coherent or universally applicable.

You see, if there is no problem and there is no significant business challenge, then there can’t be a strategy coming out of that void. It’s like developing a pharmaceutical response to a condition that doesn’t exist outside of the realms of science-fiction. It’s like the data and information management equivalent of pretending to cure COVID-19 by drinking bleach and sticking a torch up your… never mind.

And if the delivery of that faux big data strategy results in no clients or users adopting or using that technology, then there has been no innovation. Which means that the data to be used to support that strategy, and the innovation that people pretended to do, had no economic value or time and place utility. So the idea of data always having monetary worth is also problematic.

However, the moral of the story is simply this. Always strive to use terms correctly, appropriately and honestly. If not, you could be opening yet another mighty can of worms.

Thanks for reading.


#strategy #innovation #value #bigdata