Will Analytics Increase or Decrease Independence of Social Employees?

A few of my colleagues — including Alex Kass, a brilliant technologist — recently published a very interesting paper entitled, “How Digital Technologies Are Changing the Way We Work“, and their predictions have interesting implications on brands who intend to empower their employees in social media.
In particular, they suggest that an emerging trend of Edge-centricity, which they see evolving as follows:

Centralized corporate managers now command terabytes of data. As masters of the data, they should control decision making—right? Well, yes, up to a point. But technology that gathers localized data can empower local decision making in a process we call edge-centricity. With edge-centricity, information and decision-making authority are pushed out to the most customer-facing points in the organization, where the information can be put to the best practical use.

On the one hand I agree. In fact, in our book, The Most Powerful Brand on Earth, Susan Emerick and I suggest that powerful analytics will be more and more accessible by more people over time, such that each socially-empowered employee will be able to optimize their activities in social media, without depending on centralized analytics teams.

On the other hand, I also know that advancing communications and analytics often serve to increase the levels of micro-management in some organizations. For example, in the old days, when a Navy ship left for sea, the Captain ran the show. Made all decisions. Was the ultimate authority. After all, before the days of satellites, there was no way to phone home for permission for anything. Headquarters simply had to trust that their Captains.

Now, in the days of satellite-enabled real-time communications, where the Pentagon can watch every move by every ship and airplane over the seas, the Captain’s independence has been degraded in many cases. When I was deployed in the Caribbean, hunting drug smugglers, we had to phone home for permission, every time we needed to board a potential smuggler’s vessel. Sometimes, we waited hours for a decision from central authorities in the U.S.

In business, modern analytics and communications will often be used to empower employees and partners to achieve more, at faster speeds, and with higher quality. But some leaders will also choose to increase the level of detail in their control. Both approaches will certainly co-exist.

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