The rise of data-driven decision making is real but uneven — Kristina McElheran and Erik Brynjolfsson

Kristina McElheran, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy Visiting Scholar

Kristina McElheran, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy Visiting Scholar

 

 Professor of Information Technology, Director, The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy


Professor of Information Technology,
Director, The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

From Harvard Business Review

Growing opportunities to collect and leverage digital information have led many managers to change how they make decisions – relying less on intuition and more on data. As Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape quipped, “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” Following pathbreakers such as Caesar’s CEO Gary Loveman – who attributes his firm’s success to the use of databases and cutting-edge analytical tools – managers at many levels are now consuming data and analytical output in unprecedented ways.

This should come as no surprise. At their most fundamental level, all organizations can be thought of as “information processors” that rely on the technologies of hierarchy, specialization, and human perception to collect, disseminate, and act on insights. Therefore, it’s only natural that technologies delivering faster, cheaper, more accurate information create opportunities to re-invent the managerial machinery.

At the same time, large corporations are not always nimble creatures. How quickly are managers actually making the investments and process changes required to embrace decision-making practices rooted in objective data? And should all firms jump on this latest managerial bandwagon?

We recently worked with a team at the U.S. Census Bureau and our colleagues Nick Bloom of Stanford and John van Reenen of the London School of Economics to design and field a large-scale survey to pursue these questions in the U.S. manufacturing sector. The survey targeted a representative group of roughly 50,000 American manufacturing establishments.

Our initial line of inquiry delves into the spread of data-driven decision making, or “DDD” for short. We find that the use of DDD in U.S. manufacturing nearly tripled between 2005 and 2010, from 11% to 30% of plants. However, adoption has been uneven. DDD is primarily concentrated in plants with four key advantages: 1) high levels of information technology, 2) educated workers, 3) greater size, and 4) better awareness.

Read the full post at Harvard Business Review.

Kristina McElheran is a visiting scholar at the MIT Center for Digital Business. 

Erik Brynjolfsson is the Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, the Schussel Family Professor at the MIT Sloan School, and Chairman of the MIT Sloan Management Review.

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