Frank Buytendijk delivered a great keynote at 8am in Las Vegas at the TDWI conference in February 2012. He avoided the technicalities of data architectures, the rigours of data modelling and the disciplines of agile methods.
Instead, over breakfast, he dipped into the world of philosophy and asked us to consider the centuries old problems of what is true? what is real? and what is good?
Referring to Plato, Thales and Machiavelli Buytendijk lead us through some fundamentals about decision making.
What is True?
Firstly decisions are not just about the data. Do we decide to pay for parking because we calculate the cost of a ticket against the cost of a fine but factored by the risk of getting a fine? Or do we do it because we think it is the ‘right’ thing to do, the ‘civic’ thing to do?
What is Real?
So often, even with all the dashboards, scorecards, reports and charts, senior executives don’t seem to know what’s going on. Like in Plato’s Cave, the shadows on the wall are not reality, they are representations of reality. How much could really be told by listening to our customers directly rather than waiting for analysis much later?
What is Good?
Predictive analytics can provide great information that allow micro-segmentation. For example it could help an insurance company to identify those most likely to claim on their insurance policy for back and neck strain based on their on-line behaviours. Increasing their premiums might protect the business from additional costs but the insurance business model is about distributing the risk not identifying it perfectly. Taken to it’s conclusion then there is no need for insurance, we all pay for the cost of our health care as and when it happens. However, if the insurance company used this information to promote lifestyle changes for this group then ethics and business models are aligned.
What’s it all about?
Buytendijk’s quirky, thought provoking start to the TDWI conference tells us that in IT, we are wrestling with problems that preoccupied philosophers centuries ago. It also tells us though that in IT we can think too much and reflect too little.