New work processes needed to make Big Data useful

Microsoft chief envisioning officer Dave Coplin considers the human side of information as transformational for future productivity.


Microsoft U.K. chief envisioning officer Dave Coplin talked about the ways work processes must change at the Bentley Systems Year In Infrastructure event in London on Nov. 4. Courtesy: Bentley SystemsDave Coplin sees data as the energy source that will transform manufacturing and business. That's quite a vision, but that's Coplin's job.

As chief envisioning officer for Microsoft U.K., it's Coplin's job to see technology's role in the future in unique ways. Data is at the core of that vision, but for Coplin, it's not just the size of the data, but how it is used that he believes will free or constrain the worker of the future.

"Some amazing things are happening with data today," Coplin told a session at Bentley Systems' annual Year Infrastructure event in London on Nov. 4. "Data is the fuel of our organization. When you have lots of data, magical things start to happen. When you have lots of data, the answers to questions you have always had start to emerge."

Coplin, author of the book The Rise of the Humans, said the real challenge is that work processes conceived in the First Industrial Revolution no longer apply on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also called Industry 4.0. "What we don't talk enough about is not the technology, but the humans who use it," Coplin said. "We still work using very old working practices, but we use technology to make those working practices faster.

"When you start to look at how we use technology, and its productivity, what we see is our definition of productivity," Coplin added. "In a digital world, processes prevent you from reaching that potential. We've reached a limit because we've reached the limit of our old ways of working."

Coplin separated the idea of transactional data from information data, and conceded that there needs to be more trust between the people who collect the data and those who give up that data. But in terms in using informational data found in plant floors around equipment performance and productivity, he said if work practices change to take greater advantage of the data, he sees a limitless potential.

"If we want to get more out of our employees, pushing them to work harder isn't going to work. They have to work smarter," he said. "To do that, we need to use information to a greater effect."

The critical change, Coplin said, is to ensure data is available to every employee at every part of the organization. "You need to build a data culture within your organization," he said. There are vast quantities of data that need to be accessible to everybody within your organization.

"We have power to be transformational, but we have to find different ways to work," he added. "We can no longer think of the future as a straight line. It's not a straight line; it moves all over the place. Everyone inside your organizations should be empowered to be leaders."

From there, the organization will change around the data-driven decisions made throughout the organization. "It's an internal knowledge economy," Coplin said. "People see value of sharing, and all of sudden the culture is changing. You remove the organizational barrier that prevents information from flowing. The freedom of knowledge inside your organization drives the agility of the organizations." The new vision of the world includes not just consuming data, but being a part of the data. Instead of performing computing functions, the new vision is about being immersed in computing.

"You've got to remember the potential of computers and remember their role in the future of your success," he said. "We use technology to extend our reach as human beings."

- Bob Vavra is content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media,

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