Peter Drucker on Big Data

Drucker-portrait-bkt_1014Rick Wartzman writes today on in “Peter Drucker and the Big Data Revolution” about a 1955 meeting between Peter Drucker and IBM’s executives in which Drucker praised them for delivering  “what the customer considers value”:

They “come to you because of the service you give” in “systems and procedures analysis, understanding of data processing and information gathering,” Drucker told the group, which was presided over by IBM’s president, Thomas Watson Jr., the man who over the next 15 years would drive explosive growth at Big Blue.

Then Drucker added, almost wistfully: “I wish you knew more about what to do with information once you get it, but that is a private wish.”

Wartzman’s article is mostly about ex-IBMer Anant Jhingran and his startup Apigee, who learned working on IBM’s Watson that “it’s essential to concentrate on the quality of information, rather than the quantity.” Which reminds Wartzman of another observation by Drucker in the 1955 meeting: “as advanced technology becomes more and more prevalent, we have to engage in analysis and diagnosis . . . even more intensively or risk being swamped by the data we generate.”

This reminded me of a 1998 article Drucker published in Forbes ASAP, titled “The Next Information Revolution,” in which he anticipated many of the themes of today’s big data conversation:

For 50 years, the information revolution has centered on data – their collection, storage, transmission, analysis, and presentation. It has centered on the “T” in “IT.” The next information revolution asks, What is the MEANING of information, and what is its PURPOSE?…

Top management frustration with the data that information technology has so far provided has triggered the new, the next, information revolution. … what was needed was not more data, more technology, more speed. What was needed was to redefine information; what was needed was new concepts…

The computer actually may have aggravated management’s degenerative tendency to focus inward on costs… We can already discern and define the next, and perhaps even more important, task in developing an effective information system for top management: the collection and organization of OUTSIDE-focused information… Within the next 10 to 15 years, [collecting outside information] is going to be the next information frontier.