The Paradox of Information Support: How more data can mean less clarity, and how we might fix it

I think that we can all agree that proper information support is a useful thing for managers and leaders, no matter the organization. Each organization is positively awash in data, but effective organizations take that data and transform it into information – useful, cohesive nuggets that help leaders and managers to make better decisions.

Still, proper information support, with a formal process and a team that helps to take care of it, is usually not the first thing on the mind of a non-profit organization, or a small business. Why not? Because it has considerable costs. You need specialized training and a certain way of looking at the world to set up and maintain an information support system. If you’re leading a small business, or a non-profit, you probably don’t have that talent in-house (unless you’re lucky). You end up having to hire for it, and it’s just not as high of a priority as other necessities. Formalized information support becomes the purview of larger organizations, who have enough resources to dedicate people to turning data into information.

The fact that information support is restricted to these larger organizations gives rise to a paradoxical situation. The bigger your organization is, the more likely you are to have systems in place to turn data into information. And yet, the bigger your organization, the slower it is to respond to information inputs. Information support is a hallmark of large organizations, and yet large organizations are the least likely to efficiently use that information support to actually improve. It is the small and agile team that can best turn information into action.

The reasons for this are multifaceted, and I don’t intend to delve deeply into why large organizations are slow to change. Much has already been written about this fact, but I think all will agree that the inertia associated with a large organization makes changes much more difficult to implement. In a way, this is self-evident. Getting 50,000 people on board with a change is monumentally more difficult that doing the same with only 500, or 50.

All this leads me to a single conclusion: there’s a vast, untapped marketplace out there for people with skills in quantitative analysis. The team that figures out how to provide cheap, accessible information support to the small businesses and non-profits out there will be tapping a market that’s largely unexplored right now. The successful approaches will use open source tools and an approach that emphasizes distributed (aka “cloud”) approaches, rather than the traditional top-heavy infrastructure in the “large corporation” world. They’ll no doubt spend quite a bit of time and money convincing people that what they do is valuable, too, and there will be many who fail for each one that succeeds.

But the people who successfully enter this market, and who make it work, will have a unique chance to change the way we talk about information support. To call it a “revolutionary paradigm” would be to dive into buzzwords that emphasize style over substance (all too common in the business world); still, pushing information support out to the “common man” – the small businesses of the world – will no doubt upset traditional balances of power.

When information support is no longer the purview of only the ponderous corporation – slow to act despite possessing useful information – then such ponderous corporations may find themselves outmaneuvered by the small businesses who have both information and the will to act on it. And in that way, information will fill one of its most common roles: that of the great equalizer.

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