Big Data can’t help if you don’t know how to use it

Peggy Simcic Brønn

There is no real help in Big Data if you don’t know how to make use of it in a way that is valuable for your organization.

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Communication for Leaders

Key for building excellent reputations is aligning corporate strategy with the expectations and interests of stakeholders. The challenge is knowing what stakeholders expect and what are their interests.

Addressing this challenge requires employing a tool called environmental scanning, an organizational methodology used to acquire and analyze information about actors (stakeholders), events, trends, and relationships in an organization’s external environment.

This knowledge is used by management for planning the organization’s future course of action.

Radar-like activity

Through this radar-like activity, an organization is able to identify both potential issues and stakeholders before they become “problematic,” or, conversely, to engage with them in order to develop opportunities.

A wide range of information sources may be used in environmental scanning, and today, many organizations use advanced data analytics on large volumes of data (Big Data) as part of their environmental scanning.

There is a growing consulting field of firms that can draw data from thousands of third-party sources, such as print media, government agencies, non-government organizations, think tanks, websites, newsletters, social media and blogs to detect a myriad of issues that may impact an organization.

Lack of information is not the problem

Through data analytics tools organizations can mine the data, gain insights and capture value.

Acquiring and using data to make decisions is not a new phenomenon. And concerns about what to do with the data are also not new. More than fifty years ago, Ackoff (1967) warned that with the development of management information systems, lack of information was not the problem, the problem was rather an overabundance of irrelevant information.

In his opinion little attention was being paid to filtering and condensing information. Another point made by Ackoff was that it could not be taken for granted that decision makers knew how to use information.

Since 1967, there have been dramatic changes in data’s volume, velocity, and variety and in the massive computing power and analytics that allow new insights into managerial decision making and strategy.

Discovering valuable information

Comparing Ackoff’s early warnings to today’s situation Lyytinen and Grover (2017) found that an overabundance of information is not the problem, the problem is rather a growing inability to discover new relevant information from the mass of seemingly irrelevant information.

And 50 years later, one thing remained the same -- decision makers still do not always know how to use information.

What this tells us is that there is no real help from Big Data if people don’t know how to make use of it in a way that is valuable for their organization. This leaves too much responsibility for reputation risk in the hands of data/information handlers, not critical thinkers.


  • Brønn, P. S. 2019: Åpen eller Innadvendt: Omdømmebygging for organisasjoner (2. utgave). Oslo: Gyldendal.
  • Ackoff, R. L 1967: Management Misinformation Systems, Management Science. 14 (4), pB-147-B-156.
  • Lyytinen, K. and V. Grover 2017: Management Misinformation Systems: A Time to Revisit? Journal of the Association for Information Systems. 18 (3), s. 206-230
  • This article was first published in Communication for Leaders 2019. Communication for Leaders is a Science Communication Magazine published by the Centre for Corporate Communication and the Department of Communication and Culture at BI Norwegian Business School.


Text: Professor Peggy Simcic Brønn, Department of Communication and Culture at BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 4. February 2019

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