Big Data – what is it?

Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2012

Modern technology has enabled us access to an unprecedented, vast array of data. In virtually any country in the world, broadband and mobile technology penetration have exposed individuals and organisations to worldwide information, while at the same collecting and exposing data about these individuals to organizations around the  world.

Data collection and storage takes place through a large number of interconnected, communication devices that interlink tools, materials, and products with individuals and organisations. For example RFID enables us to know the location of products in a storage facility or in transit to their destination; cell phones record the location of individuals, and reveal their communication patterns; individual interactions with computers and television sets teach us about their consumption patterns and preferences; and tracking a message or a material throughout an organisation can expose inefficiencies of organisational design or procesess.

In sum, modern technology enables us to collect large amounts of real-time, micro-level data sets for entire communities and organizations. The time is ripe for academics and practitioners discuss the immense potential and the possible pitfalls of making use of such Big Data to test and refine existing theories regarding organizational design and strategy, and to collaborate in iterating these findings to explore how Big Data availability is changing the very structure of the organisations we work in, and how it can be used deliberately as a new driver  for competitive strategies and future organisational designs (Galbraith, 2012).

Why is this important?

Big Data is predicted to become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, performance and consumer surplus, according to research by McKinsey Global Institute and McKinsey´s Business Technology Office (McKinsey, 2011). Big Data also holds great potential for the public sector (McKinsey, 2011). For examples, Big Data could help European government administrators save €100 billion in operational efficiency improvements alone – and add here the income from reducing frauds and errors and boosting tax revenues.

Similarly, US healthcare could create more than $300 billion in value every year based on efficiencies derived from the use of Big Data. But to benefit from these opportunities the design of the organization architecture has to support the idea of utilizing big data. What are the implications of Big Data for what an organization will look like and how it will operate?

In this workshop we propose to examine how organisations might change in the light of Big Data and how organisational theory can benefit from access to unprecedented amount of information about organisations and individuals.

We plan to structure this workshop in several sessions, addressing: 

  • The relationship data - information - knowledge: having data is only half of the battle; knowing what to do with it is where competitive advantage comes from; having the right people to do it is part of the firm's dynamic capabilities
  • Exploring the dynamic equilibrium between individual privacy and rights, corporate benefits, institutional framework and government regulation around the world
  • What organisational theories can we test and refine using Big Data? How can we use Big Data as a complement to increased conceptual clarity in our field (e.g., better operationalisation, more fine-grained analyses)?
  • Where does Big Data live in relation to organisations? Do organizations have to own Big Data? Do we need an "open data" solution analogous to open science? How has Big Data been empowering organisations to change, and what role can academia play in the design (and study) of the organization of the future?
  • Is academia structured to take on Big Data? Several industries and academic fields (e.g., search engines, Information Science, Market Analytics) have already made extensive strides in working with Big Data. How can business schools, and, more specifically, organisational theorists, use this expertise to advance knowledge, and also give back to the practitioner community?