Overcoming Analog Habits. Part 1: Learning to cope with exponential information growth

One of the things that makes Digital Transformation (DX) hard stems from the fact that we pretty much all grew up in a largely analog world and hence have a lot of “analog habits” that are hard to break, especially if we are “experienced” senior and middle managers who got that way by being good at managing in an analog world. It takes a while to realize that digital assets are qualitatively and quantitatively different from analog assets and therefore require new and unfamiliar management approaches to their creation, management, protection, ownership and use.

Effectively collecting, validating, managing, protecting and using all that digital data is technically challenging and expensive. Before the invention of the printing press in the early part of the 15th Century, “information” transfer between people and between generations was limited to what was believed to be important and needed to be remembered. Hand copying documents was slow and laborious – and hence both limited in volume and expensive. Errors occurred in copying. Ideas were lost – or limited to the few people who could afford to create and maintain libraries.

Increasingly available and relatively low cost printing changed all that – generally for the good. But widespread literacy was not an overnight event; reading and writing ability remained a source of competitive advantage; “truth” was no easier to verify in print than when hand written; and “spam” was probably invented at about the same time as the printing press.

Over the succeeding six centuries we have seen an explosion in the quantity (if not the quality) of information that’s being created, collected, stored, retrieved, analyzed and fed back into the processes of our daily lives. Now we create the same amount of data every two years as we had created up until the start of any given period – a doubling every 24 months. Pretty much no one understands the impact of that kind of exponential growth, because it’s outside our experience. Exponential growth seldom occurs in nature – and when it does occur, it seldom has a good outcome.

So digital transformation requires us to get comfortable (or at least competent at) dealing with very large volumes and varieties of data moving at ever higher velocities. In the digital world there will always be too much data to review and too little time to react. We need an effective and efficient tool chain to manage all this. The tools aren’t all there yet, but there are more than enough to get started with – and they’re getting better all the time. Availability of trained and experienced users is an issue, but the basics aren’t that hard to learn and a lot of existing skills in data management fields can be repurposed and expanded to handle “big data”. 

It might take a while to build up the resources you need, but it won’t happen until you get started and not getting started pretty much guarantees that you’ll get out competed by those who do.