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A Futurist's Take on Managing Big Data and Disruptive Technology

June 5, 2013 – The pace of technology change is accelerating, according to noted futurist and academic Thornton May, and becoming more disruptive. And insurance IT executives need to figure out a way not only to stay on top of the shifts, but to keep their focus on the business benefit of these new technologies.

And perhaps there is no bigger shift happening than the adoption of analytics and big data. “Big data is a call to action,” May said during a Monday speech at the IASA Education Conference and Business Show.

“The bosses discovered big data,” he continued, “[and they] expect you to do something about it.”

But how can IT executives handle big data and other seismic changes?

They can and should talk to their peers, he said. They should query what he calls “the solutions community” of technology vendors and consultants. And they should be establishing “advisory boards” of smart people from solutions providers, academia, and others areas.

And IT executives should be asking them real questions, such as “What do I need to do to be awesome in three years?” he said.

It’s not an easy question.

Indeed, people have been making the argument that it’s extremely hard to manage technology futures. “But it’s not,” he said. “We’ve been doing it.” IT executives have, in just the last three decades, jumped from the mainframe era, to the PC era, to the client-server era, to the Internet enterprise software era of today.

What trips up IT, he said, is focusing on the wrong thing. IT often talks about buying new technology. But, he said, “organizations don’t buy technology. They buy the benefits technology enables.”

He referred to Scotts Co., the lawn and garden care company. He said Scotts figures out what business mission it wants to accomplish and then figures out the technology its need to support that mission.

Managing technology futures, he said, means managing future technology benefit. “We need to get back to that,” he said.

Especially with so many disruptive technologies spreading through business, including the “SMAC stack” or social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing. “They are all disruptive,” he said. “And what are they going to disrupt? They will disrupt you.”

But, in his opinion, the field of analytics known as big data is going to be the most disruptive technology affecting insurance and other businesses.

There long has been a disconnect between the ability to create, collect and store data, he said, and our capability to exploit it. But big data has the potential to uncover connections in data that businesses wouldn’t be able to see without the technology.

Big data gives a company insight, he said.

The Churchill Club, a Silicon Valley technology and business forum, recently looked at the question of how long it would take for big data to become the basis of competition, he said. And they answer the group come up with: “It already has.”

He laid out his big data “master narrative”: There is more data, there is potentially huge value in the expanding data set, and here is a rich and rapidly expanding tool set to assist in extracting value from this data.

“Be very aware of the pace of big data experimentation going in your market space,” he warned.

This story originally appeared at Insurance Networking News.

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