Managers need new skills to deal with the big data revolution

A media company, a technology company and a technology company – Sanoma, Fujitsu and Lufthansa – presented their experiences of working with big data during the RSM Leadership Summit 2014 hosted by Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) at the iconic Van Nelle Ontwerpfabrieken in Rotterdam in early October.

Big data holds great opportunities for business, but there are also risks and challenges, it was revealed. These massive sets of digital information – about operations or customers – can be used to create a competitive advantage. But first, managers and business leaders need new skills in marketing and data analytics to be able to make the most of big data. And likewise, data technology specialists need to know more about marketing and businesses. As one of the speakers commented, ‘data scientists might have the sexiest job of the 21st century!’

A short report of the RSM Leadership Summit 2014 follows. Read our full report.

Will we still need managers?

With presentations from international business and RSM academics plus lively questions for the experts from the 600-strong audience, the RSM Leadership Summit exposed a burning question: when analytics are effective enough to be able to automate decisions based on big data, will we still need managers? The role of management became clear as the speakers presented their cases.

Privacy is a priority

Finnish media company Sanoma is using big data to help product development and innovation, explained Ulla Kruhse-Lehtonen, Vice-President of Customer Insight and Analytics. “The future of media is all about people getting what they want, when they want, how they want it,” she said. Riikka Turunen is Director of Data Protection and Privacy at Sanoma. She took the audience through what she called the ‘fundamental human rights’ of data protection and privacy. Openness, transparency, accuracy and security were all essential and could increase trust in digital services.

Business decisions based on big data

RSM’s Professor Peter Vervest is a specialist in information management and networks; he gave his view of the big data landscape and a whistle-stop tour of the issues affecting its use. “It’s is not the data that matters, but the automated decision-making we base on it,” he said.

The ‘internet of things’

Jens-Peter Seick, vice-president of product management and development at Fujitsu in Europe, explained how products for collecting big data can make life easier for end users – businesses – in a hyper-connected world that has interconnected devices forming ‘the internet of things’. He explained how big data can become a real competitive advantage for business.

A source of unexploited data

The economic pressure to exploit big data, especially within airlines, was explained by Roland Schütz, CIO at Lufthansa. He said the airline has an unparalleled source of data that hasn’t yet been exploited and predicted that the biggest IT spending in aviation will be on customer service and personalisation. “Airline websites look like online travel agencies. It’s convenient and complete,” he said.

Create new business

RSM Professor Eric van Heck studies information management and markets specialising in big data. He explained how businesses can find and use the value component in it. They can become more efficient, more effective, and it can help create new business. Obstacles include the lack of a common platform for sharing data and users or clients without to the knowledge to understand the issue – or what needs to be done about it.

The consensus was yes, managers will still be needed, but their roles will change, and their skill sets will be different. Companies should embrace learning cycles and acknowledge the trends away from top-down decision making towards a combination of human-decision making with advanced software.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

RSM’s annual Distinguished Alumni Awards were presented during the Leadership Summit. This year’s recipients were Dr Herbert Smorenburg (Executive MBA 2002), and Alba Tiley (MSc in Strategic Management 2010). Both are working on the issues of global nutrition and sustainability, and a report of the awards can be found here.



A full report of this year’s RSM Leadership Summit is available online.

The next RSM Leadership Summit will take place on Friday, 2 October 2015.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is ranked among Europe’s top 10 business schools for education and among the top three for research. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam - a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. RSM also has offices in the Amsterdam Zuidas business district and in Taipei, Taiwan.

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