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Big data revolution

Middle managers need to adapt to halt their decline. CEO of Achieve Breakthrough, Mike Straw discusses the threat that Big Data poses to middle management.

A recent Gartner survey reported that 73 percent of organisations have invested or plan to invest in Big Data in the next two years. This news coincides with a recent Wall Street Journal article which has suggested that businesses are opting to use data to make decisions, eliminating the need for middle managers. Training budgets have also shrunk during the most severe global recession in history, and are only just starting to show signs of recovery, albeit from a much lower base. These factors are combining to leave middle managers even more threatened. But, I believe middle managers need to see these developments not as a threat, but as an opportunity to develop their skills and make themselves indispensable.

Developing commercial acumen around the data

Data is just 0s and 1s. It doesn’t mean anything unless it is being interpreted. Middle managers now need to take this chance and develop their strategic and commercial acumen around what Big Data is telling them. A key part will involve uncovering the trends that data is showing them and breaking their own assumptions. This is what fuels innovation. The big threat to middle managers is not adapting to these changes. The old role of just managing and coordinating may well be dead. But if they focus on driving innovation by interpreting the data then this could be a fantastic opportunity.

These changes will not just impact on middle managers. Any function whose main role is the provision of data will need to adapt to halt their decline. Technology is developing to provide data of its own accord. Now the game changes too: What does the data mean? What does it tell the business? How will it direct the organisations future path? This will impact a variety of functions of a business. The HR, marketing, finance, planning and statistics departments all need to step up.

The board’s role

The board also has an important role to play as they need to consider whether they can retrain or reshape their workforce to adjust to the changes. They can’t just cut people as a machine is now producing the data. Ensuring your organisation interprets the data ahead of the competition is now key to success.Converting data to rapid decisions

Zara are a fantastic example of how to do this well. The brand is renowned for its ability to deliver new clothes to stores quickly and in small batches. Twice a week, at precise times, store managers order clothes, and on schedule, new garments arrive. The company produces about 450 million items a year for its 1,770 stores in 86 countries. They take photos of what’s on the catwalk, analyse trends and themes and produce new clothes lines based on this within ten weeks – way ahead of the competition. Zara call it the ‘front to back supply chain’. It means they’re faster and more responsive, they need to hold less stock than competitors, lowers their cost base and gets the latest fashion into their stores first.

Blending technology with essential management

In Japan there is a trend of robots literally replacing humans in the hospitality sector. Some hotels are offering discretion with a machine checking you in and out, however others are going a step further. One hotel is set to open with artificially intelligent robots running the establishment. Despite these robots performing a lot of tasks, there is still the need for someone to manage them.

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