Interview: Looking at the Future of Digital and Hiring the Best Talent

This is part three in a three-part interview series with Jerry Kane, catch up on part one here, and part two here.

We’ve been spending time with one of the most provocative speakers regarding digital transformation, Dr. Jerry Kane, who is guest editor of social business at MIT Sloan Management Review.

Today’s article will cover two main themes, including the impact of digital on attracting and retaining talent in modern business in ways that extend far beyond LinkedIn and Jobvite.

Before we explore that, however, we’ll be looking at the maturity of analytics as a discipline and where its future might lie.

Kane begins by talking about the famous Gartner hype cycle.


“I think analytics has the Hype Cycle written all over it.

I have no doubt that analytics are going to revolutionize the way business is done. It’s just that there’s too much data out there and it’s too readily available to make good decisions from right now.

We are at the peak of inflated expectations. Bad analytics is really easy to do. Good analytics is really hard.

You have plenty of people saying ‘I know analytics’, when they really don’t know analytics. You’ve got a lot of snake oil salesmen out there.

You’ve got a lot of people out there saying ‘oh look at these great things, we can know everything about our customers’, but I don’t think that always rings true.”

Trust and reliability

For many of us working with data and analytics, it can be exciting to think about how technology is allowing us to gather new datasets and piece them together in intelligent ways.

Kane thinks there is still a long way to go before we can start trusting automated insights.

“Well when I went in and checked what Google thought about me, and based on my data, it said I was a 64 year old single woman. That might be true of my personality but it’s not true of who I am.”

In fact, it’s with a healthy dose of skepticism that Kane views all of analytics, and he cautions those that rely too heavily on one datasource for their insights.

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“There’s the question of how reliable these data sets are.

Twitter data, it’s very up to date but it’s very biased. And unless you understand what bias it reflects, you’re going to make bad decisions out of it.”

Once analysts have become aware and accounted for these flaws, Kane thinks they can build a platform to conduct meaningful analyses. “It’s just going to mean we make mistakes and you shouldn’t give up on analytics if it doesn’t work the first time out.”

Unlocking new use cases

It’s certainly not to say analytics are stumbling to provide value. Kane believes we’re on the cusp of unlocking a number of powerful and important use-cases.

“I think we are just now sort of figuring out that, oh my gosh, we’ve got a great resource here.

I certainly think you see companies today doing interesting things with it. Harrods is the classic case example of collecting data on their customers through loyalty programs, and pushing them down to point of sale so that you could treat your best customers better.

I fully expect to see that trend continue.”

London, United Kingdom - September 23, 2011: Illuminated Harrods sign and entrance canopy on the outside wall of the famous department store in Knightsbridge London.

Critical to that trend’s continuation is how businesses adopt and embrace analytics, in particular when considering data from social and digital sources.

For Kane, organizations have to take two things into mind when contemplating their own analytics endeavors.

“Firstly I think that where digital technologies are heading will mean reorienting the enterprise entirely.

Because this whole silo of, well, marketing has this data and finance has this data and so on. It needs to be integrated, which means the enterprise needs to be more integrated.

The second thing it’s going to need with social data, is that the enterprise is also going to need to be more transparent and flexible. That’s because you’re going to need to use customer data, and customer data is only valuable to the extent that they’re willing to give it to you.”

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We’ve talked before about the human element of analytics, and how the difficulty usually arises not through choice of technologies or intellect of analysts, but through the philosophy of the business implementing it.

For Kane, a pan-departmental approach to analytics is the way forward.

“Data sort of needs to be topped down because it doesn’t start with a department, it starts with a business problem or a question.

Most of those important problems lie outside of a singular field, like the issue of interacting with customers better. So that’s customer service and that’s marketing, and in the case of Coke that’s product.

So you really need a cross-functional team to address those multiple issues. I think from the marketing perspective, a lot of companies are getting that right. They’re realizing okay, this can’t just be siloed in one place.”

three smiling fingers that are very happy to be friends, family concept

Challenged on the notion that rolling out a project at this scale is insurmountable for many, Kane suggests that there are smaller acts that leaders can undertake that don’t involve dozens of people at once, and allowing change to bubble up from the bottom can yield great results.

“At the very least, we need to broaden the number of stakeholders.

The interesting trend that I’ve seen now is companies trying to move this consumer grade technology into the enterprise, because twenty years ago the enterprise really led the adoption of cutting edge technology.

Now you really have consumers leading it and you have employees who have access to much better and richer data when going outside the company than staying within.”

It’s a strange phenomenon professionally, where consumer-grade products end up getting adopted at scale.

We’ve witnessed ourselves at Brandwatch, where products like Slack, Google Calendar and Skype have evolved from erratic, private, informal use by employees to a mass corporate adoption from the top.

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It makes sense for this same concept to ring true in analytics, and the linkage between enterprise software and employee well-being is something that Kane thinks is closer than many firms may realise.

“Another really interesting thing in research that we’ve done is the high percentage of people that say they want to work for companies that are digitally mature.

So many of them are actively dissatisfied at their company’s digital efforts. What this means is that digital maturity has become a talent retention issue. And if you don’t do it, your employees are going to leave.

One reason is because employees think long-term. They know they need a job until their retirement so they want to find a company that’s going to be around.

Another is that they want to be at a place where they’re going to be successful. If you’re at a company where email is the only way to do business, and you have to spend two to three hours reading through your email stack every day, you realize there are better ways to do things.”


It’s a profound thought, and one that doesn’t get looked at closely too often.

It may well even prove to become one of the foremost reasons that some companies are finally convinced to start rethinking their organization’s approach to digital.

“Those companies are going to need to pay a premium for that talent. Because they’re going to need to compensate somebody more to come and work for your backward company and try and get it.

I actually think that’s what you’re seeing. You’re seeing a lot of large mainstream companies going to the Amazons and to the Googles, and hiring those people to be chief digital officers or high level officers.

Yes, so they’re realizing that ‘okay we don’t have the skills and we can’t grow the skills. We need to hire the skills at the top level’.

And it’s not just the chief of engineering at Google. It’s people with profit and loss responsibility.”