Big Data, Shig Shata. But What Does It Mean for Us?

In the lead up to Melbourne Cup, the “race that stops our nation”, one finds that the spring carnival is on the tip of everyone’s lips. If you’re not talking about the races, the fashions, the celebrities flying out to our shores, then you’re talking about the fluctuating weather.  One day it’s a sunny 31 degrees, the next a miserable cold and grey 18. Welcome to Spring.

This week went by in a blink of an eye but the most standout item for me was a presentation by our Executive General Manager.

Usually when we are invited to these presentations, you wander into a great dark hall of a nearby conference centre that has been hired for a couple of hours.  You take a seat with the throng of your fellow colleagues knowing that the next two hours will be of boring Powerpoint presentations of graphs and statistics.  The General Managers on stage behind a lectern deliver their staid presentation with minimal input or questions from the crowd.

But this was different.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into a small room, light refreshments and a selection of sweet pastries on the side, met with a warm smile by my GM.

My immediate reaction was to give back one of those fake gritted smiles thinking, “what’s going on?” but I saw he was genuine, I relaxed and returned the smile. I even bantered with him as I took my seat.  I put my iPhone down by my feet as I realised that there wasn’t going to be any internet surfing and listened attentively.

Our GM is a personable, down-to-earth fellow (and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss) and has a wealth of knowledge and experience in his field. He presented the results of the staff survey, explained how our business is embracing diversity and flexible work arrangements to an intimate group of about 40 people.  Initially, I felt uncomfortable sitting in the front (I’m one of these people who immediately sit in the front to get the best view – or it could be a remnant of my childhood days when I wore coke bottle glasses and had to be in front to see) but with that comes the negative of being looked at directly by the presenter, or heaven forbid, they expect you to ask a question.

Curiously, our GM mentioned ‘Big Data‘ and my ears immediately pricked up.  Now this is a relatively new concept  and over the last few months I’ve been reading various tweets and blog posts about it.  In a way, I was pleasantly surprised that he mentioned the concept in this forum!

Here was a GM inserting Big Data (I used capitalised letters for emphasis) in the context of the pace of change in our work and the impact of it on our business.  I looked around the room but listless eyes and slack jawed open mouths were looking back at him.

Big data?  Shig Shata.  Who cares?!

But the moment he talked about it in the context of the future of our work, the introduction of technologies that would allow us to have flexible work arrangements; the transformation program that will allow open sharing of information, knowledge, skills, efficient work practices and collaborations across our teams with the ultimate result that it benefits our customers – the vibe in the room visibly changed and people started asking questions.

“So you mean to say that we can do what we do from home?”

“But you’re a GM, you can work flexibly. Our Team Leaders are quite strict about what time we have to start and finish each day.  It’s easier for you. Not for us.”

“I get weird looks from my team members when I have to leave early to pick up my son from school.”

“I heard that there are companies who have their customer service staff work from home, is that like what you’re talking about here?”

I refrained from jumping in and making some inane comment about how my dream is to work from home in my pajamas.

And so the questions continued and while initially, the concept was treated with suspicion and curiosity (“yeah, what’s the catch?”), it didn’t take long for the mood to change because deep down, these people know the possibilities.

Our own outdated work practices, rules and systems and technologies we used didn’t allow us to have that flexibility.  But slowly, with the transformation program, with the increase in cross-specialisation and the introduction of technologies that allow remote access, people see possibilities.  Despite the initial suspicion…

  • They know that it can be done –  but not exactly how or when.
  • They know why it has to happen – but unsure how it would affect them personally.
  • They know that what they used to do doesn’t work anymore.
  • They feel a sense of uncertainty and anxiety – but they don’t have time to dwell on it.
  • They can fight it – but they know it’s not going to get them anywhere and frankly, they’re too tired
  • They know that there is a change in their air – but they can’t quite put a finger on it.

The presentation ended as it always does in these forums.  People are positive but with a healthy degree of cynicism maybe even a tinge of, “yes, we’ll believe it when we see it” but it IS happening in the business,  there is a change.

From this perspective as an observer but also a contributor to the change through our learning and development initiatives of our team, part of me is curious about what the future looks like for this business and for the future workplace.

I’m willing to bet it will be different.

Who knows, I may even be even consulting or delivering training to this business virtually in my pajamas from home.

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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