The Critical Role IT Plays in Helping Leaders Make Sound Decisions

Michael Vizard
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One of the behaviors that many organizations fail to appreciate is that there really is such a thing as collective intelligence.

Speaking at a THINK: A Forum on the Future of Leadership event this week in New York by IBM, Professor Thomas Malone from the MIT Sloan School of Management said that not only does collective intelligence exist, the cognitive ability of a group can actually be measured in much the same way the intelligence of an individual is measured.

According to Malone, studies have found that groups that consist of people who have above-average social perceptiveness when it comes to reading emotions, who let everyone participate in the conversation and have a greater proportion of women tend to outperform other groups in terms of cognitive ability.

What Malone is trying to get at is while there is a tendency in our business culture to celebrate the exploits of a single leader, studies show that groups that are not dominated by a single personality with perform better over the long haul. In many instances, the organizations that are dominated by a single person are essentially led by gamblers. They may get on a hot streak from time to time, but organizations that rely on the gut instincts of one person will eventually run out of luck.

The role of IT in that context is to make sure that the group of people leading the organization has access to all the information they need to make sound decisions. Dr. David Ferrucci, an IBM fellow who leads the development of the Watson supercomputer that famously trounced human rivals on the "Jeopardy!" game show, says the real problem is that organizations of all sizes have volumes of undigested data that have not been analyzed. The end result is that instead of making decisions based on actual evidence, companies and individuals are making major decisions based on opinions that more often than not don't fit the actual facts on the ground.

The good news is that many organizations are starting to figure all this out, which in part accounts for the continuing emphasis on investments in business intelligence and analytics. The role of IT in that context is to make sure the leadership of the organization has access to all the relevant information because, after all, the whole point of any organization is to minimize the risk associated with the venture at hand as much as possible in order to maximize the outcome for the people who created the organization. That can only happen when IT organizations are singularly focused on helping the organization discover relevant information as opposed to merely trying to keep the IT systems up and running.


So the next time you take a minute to ask yourself what the job function of IT really is, remember the systems themselves are really only a means to a larger end.

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