In the last 50 years, several strategic vectors have been proposed by academia for the creation and sustenance of competitive advantage of businesses. A skim through of all those historic vectors would be useful in putting the latest proposed vector “DATA” in perspective.
Let us start with Levitt. Way back in the 1960s, Theodore Levitt proposed that firms having a long term view of businesses and those that were not myopic when new opportunities emerged would eventually maintain perpetual survival and profitability. Subsequently, his contemporary Igor Ansoff recommended a step by step movement into either newer products or newer markets by leveraging on existing strengths, assets and competencies. The 2x2 Ansoff Grid still holds good as an ideal starting point for a growing business to decide on what it should do next.
Two decades after Levitt and Ansoff, Harvard professor Michael Porter came up with the first structured framework for gaining strategic competitive advantage. His five proposed avenues were cost, differentiation, focus, preemption and synergy. Another decade down the line, we had two authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema proposing a triple vector framework for growth viz. - Product leadership, Operational excellence and Customer intimacy. Till the turn of this millennium, a judicious combination of these classic vectors did help in creating and sustaining businesses. But, not anymore!
Welcome to the emerging world of technology convergence where the new global business order is going to be governed by DATA. Today, have no doubts, we are living in a data-driven world. If 19th century was defined by the steam engine and 20th century by petroleum, the new millennium belongs to DATA. Had Karl Marx been around, he would have elevated data to the exalted ‘4th factor of production’.
Starting from sourcing and ending with storage, the new-age data follows a complex path; a journey that often starts from the amorphous ‘wisdom of the crowd’ social media and ending in the nebulous cloud computing space. Factors like digitization of the world, miniaturization of technology, rapid fall in hardware pricing due to economies of scale production, availability of free space in the cloud for data storage, tendency to create and upload ‘personal space’ information and finally rapid advancement in processing intelligence of computing machines – all these have contributed to the swift proliferation of data in structured and unstructured formats.
Recently, I was visiting the NASA Space center at Houston and we were at the historic mission control center of the Apollo operation that put Armstrong on the moon. At that moment, my tour guide dramatically whipped out his cell phone and announced, “Most smart phones of today have more computing power and storage space than all of what NASA had, when they put man on the moon in 1969”. What a way to sum up the humungous scaling up of data through a casual observation!
How do we contextualize data and its absolute importance in the framework of Learning and Development (L&D)? In today’s evolving business world, L&D is responsible for both individual as well as organizational outcomes. At the individual level, the focus is on providing the right motivation, mobility and pathway for growth. At the organizational level, the requirements morph into complex deliverables like building intellectual capital, improving aggregate retention and disseminating a shared vision. In the data-driven age that we live in, most, if not all of these objectives can be effectively met by a keener understanding of data. L&D should focus on consolidation, relevance extraction and contextualization of the huge amount of data that envelope us every day.
Take the world of Recruiting 3.0. Many intelligent social media monitoring tools are available today for the modern recruiter. HootSuite allows the continuous monitoring of several social media platforms. Sprout Social allows saving and monitoring of multiple data feeds like mentions and hashtags. Simplify 360 is a powerful listening tool which will help transform amorphous social media feed to rational and actionable intelligence. A combination of these tools will help the L&D team at the beginning of the ladder – Hiring.
With jobs becoming more and more mobile, an L&D intervention on reaching out to its employees from the informational, reporting and interactional perspectives assumes a high significance. Right information out and right feedbacks in – the info loop for maintaining strategic alignment - is best driven by integrative functions like L&D rather than by individual lines of business.
Given its inherent human element, Learning and Development tends to emphasize on the subtle as against gross. The L&D system factors in a lot of subjective and intuitive elements. Some of these subjective elements are mirrored in the emotions and sentiments that are displayed in today’s social world. A large LinkedIn network is an indication of ‘status’ seeking. Similarly, Facebook friend aggregation would be either to enhance ‘intimacy’ or to mitigate ‘loneliness’. An ‘inflated ego’ which manifests itself as a requirement for regular social visibility would be the driver for accumulating Tweet followers. All of these traits are demonstrated by the Millennials whose device orientation is better than their people orientation. Today’s L&D addresses the aspirations of this Millennial.
The vast social space is an amalgam of diverse behavioral traits. Compounding this behavioral diversity is the modern device diversity starting from laptops to tablets to smart phones. Each of them is a micro trans-receiver of data. The enterprise of today can hence be labelled as a ‘connected enterprise’. In such an ecosystem, functions like L&D have a compelling role in facilitating mass direct engagement. The key enabler for success in these newly laid pathways is going to be DATA.
Summing up, unearthing intelligence from a jungle of raw data will be the challenge for new age businesses. Mining, warehousing, analytics and business intelligence are emerging as the most significant tools for maintaining and sustaining competitive advantage today. The core to all of this is the ubiquitous data. Ask the Apples, Amazons and Googles and they will tell that the way ahead is the “DATA way”!