Living in a Data Driven World


In Kevin Kelly’s TED presentation (2016), he reminded us that many previous technological advancements were predictable.  That is to say the general concept was predictable; however, the specific technologies that emerge were nearly impossible to predict.  Kelly offered the idea that the creation of mobile phones was predictable but the idea of smartphones and the ways they are used today was not.  As leaders, it is vital for us to be aware of emerging technologies and how they can be best utilized.  Having the latest and greatest is not the objective or the measure of success, but truly utilizing them to maximize the advancement of the organization to the fullest will be the measurement of success.

The advancement of technology has given us a plethora of information and data.  Most of this information and data can be at our fingertips.  David Weinberger (2011) questioned, “if the networking of knowledge is making us smarter or stupider.”  Though somewhat contradictory to my previous week’s blog, the emergence of technology can improve our abilities and move our teams forward; it is capitalizing and harnessing of the power of the technology that is the difference maker.  Kelly (2016) explained why smart cars could benefit us by not driving like a human.  Smart cars are not distracted or emotional.  They can process information more quickly as humans as well.  The distraction comment Kelly made struck me as something worth noting.  When I think about advancements in technology, I think of how very little we do to utilize the technology to its fullest.  Returning to the conversation of Google discussed in recent weeks, Google can be a powerful tool, but it is also easy to be lost and taken down a rabbit hole only to never return to the reason you were using Google in the first place.  I see this being something we, as leaders need to try to help our organizations avoid.

I reflect on my early days in higher education as a freshman admission counselor.  The majority of communication and interaction I conducted with students and families was in person, on the phone (an actual landline in the office or by using a calling card at home), or by mail.  Email was used, but sparingly.  As time went on, the development of cellphones, email, and the internet vastly changed the landscape.  Texting and social media are all now additional ways to communicate with students.  Admission offices followed corporate sales teams’ lead with the creation and implementation of Communication Relationship Management (CRM) systems for the specific use of recruiting student.  A 2014 Hanover Research submission offered market trends and research on the use of technology by institutions of higher education.  Two-year-old research can be considered old by technology advancements standards, but the themes of the research still hold true.  Colleges and universities are looking to data and analytics to drive recruitment.

Schools often pay for services such as retargeting to market to students and use data collected when students visit their website.  Many schools use the data to create personalized PURLS and individualized digital viewbooks.  With each of these different initiatives the need for managing data and using data analytics to drive decisions is becoming a challenge.  Hanover Research (2014) stated, “Getting a better handle of this data is a new area of concentration for colleges and universities.”  Weinberger (2011) presented Amazon as an example of how the effective analyzation of data can lead to meeting the needs of a customer.  He went on to add we need to continue to learn how to evaluate information and knowledge.


Forbes (2016) offered Gartner’s 16 new technologies, and of the 16, three were focused on data or analytics (Data Broker PaaS, Personal Analytics, and Smart Data Discovery).  Interestingly enough, Wikipedia’s list of emerging technology mentioned very little about new technologies focused on data management.  On the other hand, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, & Byers offered a different view.  At the Internet Trends 2016 Code Conference, Mary Meeker mentioned data and data management numerous times, focusing on data-driven business, data collection, data networking, and data leveraging.  In the presentation, data leveraging was described as the “next big wave.”  Looker CEO Frank Bein as quoted by Meeker said, “Data is moving from something you use outside of the workstream to becoming a part of the business app itself.  It’s how the new knowledge worker is actually performing their job.”

Data and data management will need to be a priority for leaders to effectively adapt to the ever-changing and evolving world of technology.  Jobs and duties will continue to change with the emergence of new technologies and industries such as higher education will be no different.  Leaders will need to change existing positions or create new positions to effectively manage and utilize data to drive institutions forward.  Leaders will also need to evolve and adapt as well.  Relying on others to understand big data and analytics will not be enough.  Being a driver of change and the use of data will be a requirement.





8 thoughts on “Living in a Data Driven World

    • Dr. Watwood,

      Good evening. I agree with you. One of the challenges I am facing being with a new employer is having a lack of knowledge of past data to compare to current data. I use different data indicators to gauge effectiveness than has been used in the past. I have asked for reports to be written in such a way that previous years’ data can accurately be used to compared to this year data. Until we have that information, it is difficult for me to assess trends and lead us effectively.



  1. Great point that it’s not about having the latest and greatest but rather being able to utilize what we have to its greatest capacity to serve the organization. I am finding that to be quite challenging but do feel motivated to do a better job along these lines. One of the most frustrating and seemingly obvious areas to work toward a better solution is in our virtual teleconferencing. We use multiple platforms and none are ideal. Some locations and hardware do better with some than others and meetings and webinars are sometimes put on hold for up to 15 minutes until someone finally decides we need to bail and call into a conference line. This happens largely because some people in positions of influence get enamored with the latest and greatest rather than most functional. I believe people’s time is a treasured resource. Meetings are largely a waste of time as it is – see Michael Mankins analysis of how a single executive staff meeting over the period of a year ends up costing 300,000 person hours a year – cool interactive infographic – With this much time going down the tubes already – sitting there playing with technology is inexcusable.

    And you are spot on regarding use of analytics. Executives from every department now want to measure as much as they can in order to drive leadership excellence. In some ways we may have gone overboard in reacting to such data. Patterns of data are best to inform change, yet there is some knee jerking by some who may not have enough experience in data analysis. I think there is great opportunity in educating around how to make sense of the flood of data. Do you find your colleagues have a good handle on it? Thanks ~Tricia


    • Tricia,

      Good morning. Your comments and thoughts seem very familiar. The video conferencing at my previous institution were comical. The two or three second pause caused people to constantly interrupt and speak over one another. While the option to be able to see one another was helpful, the pause and occasional dropped call made the value almost a wash. I am not opposed to adding new technologies to help the organization, but I do feel it is important for multiple offices to be included in the conversation when considering the “latest and greatest.” I believe I mentioned the approach in previous weeks, but I cannot emphasize it enough. Having the perspective of IT, the Business Office, organizational leaders, and various users can be invaluable in deciding if the new product is worth the investment.

      As for data, we have a relatively new leadership team, and we are currently accesses and deciding data indications that will be valuable in driving decisions. At this point, we have a lot of data, but in my opinion, we are not at the point that we have harnessed what we need. I would agree that decisions should not be made solely on specific data. If not careful, some may use only data that helps them build their case for an initiative they are pushing. At the same point, overuse of data can leave us buried, paralyzed, and incapable of making a decision. Identifying the data that is most useful and shows various sides to consider is key.



      • Always interesting to hear how no matter our organization there are some elements which overlap. Great suggestion to ensure multiple parties are in the room when deciding on a technological fix. I’ll keep pushing for that. And great to hear that you’re pausing on the data before making decisions. You’ll surely be able to use it to its best effect. ~Tricia


      • Adding to this thread regarding using something to its fullest versus automatically moving on to the “latest and greatest,” I think we also need to be vigilant about using the best tool for the job. This could be the newest thing, or it could be something that has been around forever. In the rush to take advantage of new technology, we at times forget to consider the goal and whether leveraging the latest tool or opportunity is the best way to achieve it.


        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jason.

    I agree with the importance of data you highlighted (I also made note of the same slide you quoted from Meeker’s presentation. Bolling and Zettelmeyer (2014, offer a set of six principles that they believe will drive the development of data analytics as an important part of one’s leadership (taken verbatim from their paper):

    1. Analytics should start with business problems.
    2. Analytics needs translators.
    3. Analytics requires data scientists of different flavors.
    4. The analytics team should help get the job done.
    5. All leaders need a working knowledge of data science.
    6. Analytics should have a seat at the top table.

    The authors argue that just like other developments, ” Big data, too, will encounter resistance — but of a particularly stubborn kind. Previous disruptions challenged the way things were done; big data challenges what we think we know.” As this trend continues to impact leadership, this dynamic will be an interesting one we all wrestle with.



  3. Your reference to rabbit holes got me thinking about ADD/ADHD. I have a son, and myself, who are diagnosed as ADHD. Rabbit holes are part and parcel of that experience. Perhaps the leaders of tomorrow have to assume that the nature of the Net is very similar. The challenge is to get their frontal lobes engaged enough to focus on what is most important (to their businesses). In a world of rabbit holes, the trick is to get their teams to filter to the right stuff.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s