Consider this: Is knowledge in your organization created by technology or by the people associated with the organization? Bryan Beverly kicks off the discussion.

Bryan Beverly, Statistician, Bureau of Labor Statistics

May 23, 2016

3 Min Read
Credit: iStock

Question: What is the source of knowledge, technology or people? Our site’s sponsor says that its analytics product provides "The Power to Know". Elsewhere, labels such as "Management Information Systems", "Decision Support Systems", "Data Warehouses", and "Information Technology" imply that knowledge is technologically determined.

However social theorists, whether classical (such as Karl Mannheim, Peter Burger and Thomas Luckmann) or contemporary (such as Charles Camic and Neil Gross), argue that knowledge is a derivative of human group experiences. These experts in the Sociology of Knowledge suggest that individuals and groups create and integrate knowledge into society.

Why should it matter? As long as the direct deposit is made every two weeks, then why should any analytics professional care about the origin of knowledge? There are three reasons this is important.

First, your view or more importantly, your company’s view on the source of knowledge will influence budget prioritization. If the company believes that technology creates knowledge, then there will be a budget emphasis on technical solutions vis-à-vis higher salaries or more training. Typically companies will make a "technology or talent" choice; they will either invest in shrink wrapped solutions or a team of gurus. Hence, if your company believes that knowledge is technologically determined, then I would advise you to not spend your anticipated performance raise. But if your company believes the opposite, then you should practice your water-walking skills.

Second, the company’s view on the source of knowledge will influence the power structure. Environments, where technology is deemed as the source of knowledge, are likely to resemble technocracies. In a technocracy, your status and authority will be linked to your relationship/custodianship of the mission critical technology. But environments, where people are deemed as the source of knowledge, are likely to resemble bureaucracies. Here fixed rules, hierarchies and specialization govern how people are deployed. If your company is a technocracy, then developing an application that can reduce headcount is your golden ticket. But if your company is a bureaucracy, then you might have to wait a few years and budget cycles to get that job-eliminating application approved.

Third, the company’s view on the source of knowledge will influence the company culture. The value system, the standards of ethics, the corporate moral code will be guided by whether your company believes that people exist for the sake of the technology or vice-versa. Which do you trust -- the algorithm or the analyst? Which topic is discussed more -- software upgrades or requests for graduate school support? Does your company have the latest firewall software but seldom has seminars on workplace sexual harassment? Are copyrights and licensing discussed as much as health care benefits? Which does your company seem to protect the most -- the technology or human capital?

In effect, you can discern your company’s belief about the source of knowledge by assessing the budget, the power structure and the value system. And as an analytics professional, it is critical that you understand your environment so that you can pursue the best career opportunities. You want to be sure that what you bring to the table is a good fit (or at least one with which you can live for now).

Moreover, if you are an entrepreneur and desire to kick-start your own firm, then you should be clear about your own beliefs. Do you believe that technology determines knowledge or do you believe that people generate knowledge? Your orientation will then shape your budget priorities, organizational structure and value system.

Is knowledge a function of technological determinism, a social construct or perhaps a synthesis of both? What do you think?

About the Author(s)

Bryan Beverly

Statistician, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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