Olga Matthias, Professor at Leeds Beckett University and director of Capability Gap Ltd., spoke at the “Building the virus-resistant company” science conference about how the less-is-more approach and the skill to take human resources into account bring success when collecting data.
Professor Olga Matthias has dedicated her entire career to the subject of systems and the usage of data – she has done so as a professional in the field, later as a consultant and for the last 15 years as a Professor, initially at Sheffield University and now at Leeds University. At the conference organised by EUAS and Ülemiste City, she spoke about the influence information systems have on businesses and shared recommendations on how to manoeuvre more effectively in the data flow.
Prof. Matthias said that as an academic she started to look at things in a slightly different way. “The process as such took the central position. People's knowledge about the opportunities of different systems is increasing but still lacking. It is important to understand that the entire environment forms an endless chain – impacting on us, our customers, suppliers and so on,” Professor Matthias explained, in mapping the situation.
She focused on big data, showed trends and cited decade(s) old quotations that are still present today despite the fast development of technology. Prof. Matthias illustrated the Four Vs of Big Data: volume, velocity, variety and variability, which describes where the data comes from, how much and how often data is received and how the data is linked.
“This all means that more and more information and technology is around us and at our fingertips. However, as you cannot compare apples and oranges, you have to know how to distinguish them and ensure that apples look like apples and oranges look like oranges. That is a big issue in terms of what we can do with data,” Professor said, in outlining the challenge.
Critical skill ‒ the ability to interact with data
Matthias concluded that when putting together people (or wisdom) and machines (or technology), there is a crossover point where it is only possible to continue with data. Processes are accelerating, competition is increasing, costs are reducing...
“This all seems so simple and logical but in real life it does not quite work this way,” claimed Prof. Matthias. “A small problem in a long supply chain brings the entire process to a stop. The biggest concern is how we are able to work through the ever-growing data flow and manage it to make better decisions and be more efficient.”
The solution does not require discovering the Eighth Wonder of the World. “Collecting a lot of data has become a common practice. So much so, in fact, that new departments are set up for processing this data. Eventually, they drown beneath this mountain of data, fail to resolve the problem and create more problems,” Professor Olga Matthias said, in describing the situation and presenting a solution: “Actually, a very small part of data mass is required. Instead of complexity, simplicity should be sought and the skill to extract this important part should be developed.”
Again, very simple on the surface. But actually...? Should we follow the slogan “less is more” or turn it on its head?
Professor Matthias: “So many data scientists have said that if you process enough data, you will get the nuggets of necessary information. That is not true. The amount is not a defining feature. One has to interrogate the data in a particular way. For that, you have to know precisely what you need and how to ask the right questions. It does not matter what the answer is – it might not be the one you want; however, you have received a particular answer to a particular question. There is no gain in the random selection of information.”
Every program and system is limited
Prof. Matthias assessed the situation using figurative speech, such as “being in a speed loop” and “ploughing through the information”. “You run and run but do not move forward. You spend a lot of time, energy and resources in collecting and managing information, but knowledge and wisdom are left in the background or entirely forgotten when processing the data,” she said, making a comparison. According to Prof. Matthias, it is possible to exit from the loop through creative thinking and adopting the maxim “It’s all about people”.
“Some years ago, the UK Government Communications Headquarters broke a centuries’ old pattern and actively started to hire persons of a different profile. For example, they knowingly started to employ dyslexic people because it has been proven that their ability to detect different patterns is outstanding,” she said, using an example of the thoughtful usage of human resources.
“Digitalisation does not make our work easier nor bring productivity and profit growth to businesses. To achieve these goals, the answers are in people and knowing your business and discerning what is coming along with transformations,” Professor Matthias stated.
“The development of technology is fantastic and offers enormous added value, but this is only so if we remember to think about what we want to gain from the systems and know how to achieve what we want,” she stressed.
Finally, Matthias said: “Leveraging technological innovation in a way that is useful for your business – whether a large or a small business – is a long game. On this road it is definitely important to have some downtime and think things through from time to time.”