Monthly Research
& Market Commentary

Ecosystem Stewardship and the Emerging Bipolar World of Data

Assets/Capabilities / 30 Oct 2012 / By Venkatesh Rao

Seven months into our Future of Data research study, we’ve concluded that the while the worlds of ERP and Big Data are not in direct conflict with each other, they are not exactly harmonious complements either. Instead, they are the two poles of an emerging bipolar world. Whether this situation turns into a Cold War or a creative dialectic depends on the imagination with which your organization engages the bipolar future.

ERP - EVS Axis

In the emerging world, ERP systems constitute one pole (what used to be the only pole). Emerging technologies represent the new pole, which we’ve dubbed Ecosystem Vitality Stewardship (EVS). The two poles represent differing philosophies of information architecture that vie for influence over an organization’s internal and near-neighborhood data environment.

The conversation around the future of data started by Big Data is neither “sound and fury signifying nothing”, nor is it a straightforward example of “disruption” in the Clayton Christensen sense.

Of the assessments doing the rounds, “Big Data is a new management model,” recently articulated by Andrew McAfee, is the most promising. Is this assessment correct?

Yes and no. We’re not seeing the emergence of a new new model, but merely the completion of the work-in-progress model that’s been developing since about 1997. The emerging data technologies are what stitch together corporate intranets, social media, cloud computing and the mobile revolution into a coherent whole, as the infrastructure for a new management model.

The world we are leaving behind was built around a unipolar information architecture, within which ERP systems formed the heart of large organizations. This world was marked by a fundamentally ‘inside-out’ orientation and led to systems based on what political scientist James Scott called “authoritarian high modernist” architectures.

The world we are entering preserves this existing internal pole and inside-out orientation, but introduces a second pole with a competing/complementary orientation: one at the heart of the ecosystem outside the corporation, anchoring an ‘outside-in’ orientation. Like a view of the Earth from above the North Pole, our current mental models lead to a highly fragmented and incoherent view of the South Pole.

Our Future of Data report is shaping up to be an introduction to the South Pole and a primer on managing in the bipolar world. It will be available early in the new year.


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