Andrew McAfee: Drilling For Data


by Samuel Greengard

I interviewed Andrew McAfee recently for a CIO Insight magazine story about the multi-generational workforce. McAfee is Associate Director and Principal Research Scientist for the Center for Digital Business at MIT's Sloan School of Management and one very smart guy. I highly recommend his blog.

McAfee offered a perceptive observation: making use of today's data and information pools requires a diverse toolkit and a focus on numerous access points. Tapping into these resources demands a fresh mindset that differs from earlier generations of enterprise technology management.

A perfect example is social networking. The ability to create a greater number of connection points--think of it as more neurons in the brain--has the potential to ratchet up the collective IQ of the organization.

Social networking extends beyond LinkedIn and the Twittersphere. For example, conventional search engines, such as Google, are remarkably good at culling existing information from an existing data pool. But there's another data pool that's essentially cloaked: the collective knowledge and problem solving skills of a group.

Indeed, many younger workers naturally gravitate to informal methods such as crowdsourcing to solve problems in a more collaborative and iterative way. Unfortunately, crowdsourcing usually lies outside the neatly constructed guardrails of conventional corporate thinking.

The area outside these guardrails is frightening to many business and IT leaders who clamor for proof and ROI data to support the value of informal interactions. While nobody's denying the need to know what works and what doesn't work, this view further reinforces conventional thinking and perpetuates a thoroughly outdated command and control mentality.

Savvy leaders recognize that it's better to build robust social networking and data collection tools and let evolution take its course. Over time, these informal systems will become more valuable. You might not see the dollar signs right this minute--and you might not have tools to measure the exact ROI--but the picture will snap into focus at some point in the not too distant future.

The reality is that we're living in an increasingly chaotic and unstructured world. In the end, it's up to IT to build the systems that provide enough flexibility for people to process data and information in entirely new ways. Remove the guard rails and you may discover a brave new world filled with opportunities.