Experts agree: Business and technology are on the cusp of a management revolution, brought on by big data and data analytics. A healthy dose of skepticism — and intuition — are required arsenal.

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, 1833

Experts agree: Business and technology are on the cusp of a management revolution, brought on by big data and data analytics. A healthy dose of skepticism ? and intuition ? are required arsenal.

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, 1833

Big data. The term itself, verging on overuse, is leaving some with a bit of skepticism about its benefits.

But that doubt isn’t such a bad thing, according to Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business at the MIT Sloan School of Management. It serves a purpose by furthering the discussion around the validity of fundamental changes being shaped by data and analytics — one that calls into question the age old management art of gut, intuition and experience.

“Skepticism is good,” said McAfee during his opening address at the Center’s recent daylong conference, Big Data: The Management Revolution. “Our goal today: to address that we are in the middle of a management revolution.”

Erik Brynjolfsson, Director at the Center, echoed McAfee’s assertions that the era of big data is bringing about a significant transformation, both in management and in technology. And along with doubt, there is another important element to consider, one that can be associated with many a revolution (think: Louis XVl just before the guillotine): There are those that will be caught unaware.

?Revolutions replace incumbents,? said Brynjolfsson. ?And senior executives have a hard time recognizing revolutions ? they have a stake in change. We are hopeful we will do a better job of recognizing changes and preparing people. Revolutions don?t have to be bloody, but there are winners and losers.?

Roger Roberts, a partner at McKinsey & Company and an MIT Sloan School of Management alum, compared the big data management revolution with water behind a dam, waiting for release.

“If you clear away the barriers of decision making in organizations ? and regulations ? you will see a tremendous amount of economic growth,” he said, during a presentation at the Center’s Big Data event. “From my perspective. We’re just starting to scratch the surface. The promise is still very much on the horizon.”

The reason the promise is still on the horizon: the decision-making mindset in many organizations is beginning to shift, according to Roberts, who described how interest in big data is percolating across industries; how IT executives in many organizations are rethinking roles and structures to manage real time data and making new investments in big data analytics initiatives.

“There is a bit of refocusing on the core of business,” said Roberts. “Early conversations were about, ‘I’ve got data, maybe I can find some way to monetize it.’ Now it’s, ‘how can I use this big data world to run my core business better?’”

Even so, Brynjolfsson warns that the skeptics are right that big data is no substitute for good judgment.

“It’s not like you can all stop using your judgment and intuition. But when you look at the broader data, more people are making the mistake of relying too much on gut. That means that you question your judgment ? here’s what your gut is saying, here’s what the data is saying. Put a little bit more weight on what the data is saying. There is going to have to be a balance. But it strikes me, over and over, that a data driven approach seems to be winning much more.”