Guardians of Power: IT’s Role in the New Data Democracy

If a remotely conscious adult makes about 35,000 decisions every day, I’d say an ambitious working professional (like you or me) makes at least one order of magnitude more daily decisions.

Why? Achievement stems from sets of decisions. In every decision we use the information we have available to make a choice, to make a move that we hope puts us closer to our goals.

It stands to reason that more useful information -- through data -- would position us to make these decisions better.

As immersed participants in the age of information,  we all cherish access to information as a basic tenet of modern democratic society. Even more, as professionals in the vague broad field of “information technology”, most of us working in the tech sector have a soft place in our hearts for knowledge. Some even call us knowledge workers.

And clearly, the data reflects our values: there are 4.4 Trillion Gigabytes of data in the digital universe today and it is rapidly growing in all directions. And almost all of this 4.4 Trillion Gigabytes likely rests in the hands of your friendly neighborhood IT department.

With Power Comes Responsibility

The people working in IT departments in organizations around the world are the gatekeepers and guardians of the organization’s data.We have armies of engineers and technicians collecting, storing,analyzing, reporting, maintaining these vast amounts of information -- and perhaps most importantly, deciding who has access.

First Order or New Republic?

The role of the IT department in shaping a new democratic approach to data-driven-decisions in a company cannot be under-estimated.How do they decide what is fair? Reasonable? Is it productive for the company? Is it even logical? Will that mysterious black box that isIT even grant you access? What will it cost? So many questions arise. 

From the side of the technologists, we have tradeoffs to consider and navigate. Corporate policies are not always clear.(insert period, not comma) We fear losing control but are excited about distributing data analysis and mining across the organization. We worry about losing relevance but have the ambition that draws us to focus our time on more critical decisions . 

“It’s easy to lie with statistics. It’s hard to tell the truth without statistics.” – Andrejs Dunkels

What are the advantages? What are the social, cultural, or political challenges? How can technical departments mitigate these challenges?

Let’s Have a conversation

All these questions don’t have clear and obvious universal answers -- as we discover the value in breaking out of the traditional silos of information, we are pressed to address these questions. So let's come together and talk. How do you navigate these questions?

Come join me at TAO's member event on Jan, 27

For me, knowledge is a core value. Information is a valuable resource. The better informed we are, the better decisions we make and the more we can achieve together. I wake up each day with a resolve to make it easy for all people (especially non-technical folks) to access wisdom from data through intelligent, intuitive technology. Each perspective on a relevant piece of data could bring about new insights, each person in our society can use this  But we need the guardians of this powerful asset to guide the way to democratized data -- let’s bring the power of data into the hands of all

How has innovation evolved over the past decade?

Innovation 10 years ago was not the buzzword that it is today. We must be careful that we don't lose the true essence of the word to those marketing departments hijacking the term. Innovation is a process for solving problems -- a cycle that must repeat as long as challenges and obstacles exist. In many cases, the word "innovation" is used to describe the outcome of this process and this is where we must be careful. We must not confuse the process with the outcome -- which is often the result of executing a common sense solution (one solution of many) that emerges from a constant incessant quest to understand the problem more deeply.

The moment we stop to ask questions in order to know more about the problem at hand, the moment we put our assumptions aside (or even acknowledge our assumptions), to look at new angles of the problem -- that is the moment the process of innovation begins. Questions challenge the status quo, the standard operating procedure, and they create a little window to more information - more data. As we are armed with more information, we can aim to develop a stronger solution -- but as we begin to execute the solution, we uncover new information, new data. And so the cycle of innovation goes.

So many industries and sectors have changed over the past decade (as more continue to shift dramatically) that I have too much to write on the topic. So I am limiting myself to the first three points that come to mind for each of these five areas:


Impact on Economy

1. Innovation plays a huge role in entrepreneurship today as new technology dramatically shifts old business models, technologies, services, and cultural norms. Over the past 10 years, there has been intentional and deliberate efforts made by entrepreneurs to innovate and bring disruptive new products to market.

2. The individual consumer's contribution to the broader economy is increasingly fragmented -- for example, people are paying many more vendors a month small sums of money. Due to a number of factors including the rise of the sharing economies, the rise of the freelancer, and the rise of millennial preference towards service technologies.

3. Value is created between people in ways that cannot be truly described and captured by just financial metrics -- especially as data plays an increasingly strong proxy for money.


Impact on Culture

1. We are just starting to become aware of the strengths that diversity of thought and perspectives bring to any culture of innovation

2. The rise of the digital native and subsequently the beginning of the rise of the data native

3. The late nineties and early 2000s developed an expectation in the market for "freemium" content, services, and technologies -- with a large percentage of every customer base paying little or no money and providing personal data in exchange for new technologies. This created unique challenges to traditional business models and forced both companies and financial markets to shift their perspectives. Consumer expectations are continuing to shift and change -- from a new global trust in the "sharing economy" apps (Uber, AirBnb, etc.) to a new distrust in those same apps  collecting personal data.

4. Innovation in the design, ease of use, and user experience of software products (as apps) in the consumer markets created a huge contrast with the user experience of enterprise software -- people are using better designed technology at home than they are at work. This contrast in experience at home vs. at work creates opportunities for incumbent (mainly enterprise Saas) technologies to compete with traditional market leaders.


Impact on government

1. Data as a public good is beginning to emerge as a foundational principle in local and federal governments around the world.

2. Government is beginning to be embraced as a platform for innovation that to foster private sector growth

3. New methodologies and philosophies from the technology sector are embraced by govt. to help scale govt services - i.e.  Agile, crowd-sourcing, open data


Impact on global development

1. New technologies, tools, services with massive impact are starting to emerge from emerging markets, both to meet their own regional needs and to serve a global market

2. "Innovation ecosystem development" is now taken on as a task by cities and community builders in emerging markets around the world. These innovation spaces and business models are intentionally funded, managed, and scaled in key geographical hubs around the world (ie. Nairobi, Medellin, Skolkovo) While not all of these of efforts have been successful, there is a very clear and marked shift in the approach towards innovation by tech communities around the world.

3. More opportunities to serve a new set of diverse markets around the world - from food delivery apps in China to car-sharing apps in India - While the proliferation of mobile technologies throughout the world has been accelerating, there are now massive markets demanding content, services, technologies provided through their mobile platform of choice.


Impact on Technology

1. Increase in the quality, quantity, and manageability of data

2. Service technologies - apps and Saas tools that provide services

3. Standards and interoperability meet the demand for a new set of "languages" for machines and people to communicate with each other.


VIDEO: Shifting the power.. Data + Storytelling for a Stronger Democracy

Its here! The talk I did for Willamette Week's TechFestNW 2015 is now live:

Watch my TEDxPDX 2015: Diversity of Thought

Phew! And here it is. 3000 people, I was nervous - but it unfolded perfectly! Thank you to Mike Pacchione, Allen Harding, David Rae, Vince LaVechhia, and all those friends and family members who helped me make this happen.