Home > Data-for-Development > How Big Data Changes the Locus of Organisational Power

How Big Data Changes the Locus of Organisational Power

Big data can lead centres of power in organisations to move.  Recent research on this was undertaken in an Indian state electricity corporation (“Stelcorp”), reported in the paper, “Exploring Big Data for Development: An Electricity Sector Case Study from India”.

This found three shifts to be occurring, as illustrated.

Power Shifts Associated with Big Data

1. From Public to Private. Previously, Stelcorp was responsible for its own data and data systems. As a result of sectoral reforms, private firm “Digicorp” was brought in.  While de jure control remains with Stelcorp, de facto control has shifted to Digicorp.  Digicorp controls knowledge of the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the data systems; it operates those systems; and Stelcorp staff have been reduced to a clerical service role.  In theory, Digicorp could be replaced.  But as seen in other public-private partnerships, in practice there is an asymmetry of power and dependency that has locked in the private partner.

2. From Workers to Managers. With the introduction of online meters for bulk and urban electricity consumers, requirement for human meter-readers has fallen. As a result, during 2013-2016, 40% of meter-readers lost their jobs.  For the remainder, the writing is on the wall – online metering will spread throughout the rest of the electricity network, and their jobs will slowly but steadily be automated out of existence.  For those that remain, the data they collect is less critical than previously, as it forms a declining proportion of all meter data; and they have less control when reduced to just capturing data on hand-held devices (they barely own and access this data and do not use or regulate it).  As a result, Stelcorp managers are decreasingly resource-dependent on the meter-readers and power has shifted away from the latter and towards the former.

3. From Local to Central Managers. The advent of big data led to creation of a central Finance and Energy Management Unit (FEMU). Previously, managers at divisional and zonal levels would be accountable to their immediate superiors, typically within that level: it was those superiors who collected performance data on the managers and negotiated its implications, and those superiors who held power over their junior managers.  Data was relatively “sticky”; tending to be restricted to localised enclaves within the organisation.  This is no longer the case.

Now, all forms of data flow readily to FEMU.  It sees all that goes on within Stelcorp (at least to the extent reflected by current online data) and is able to drill down through zonal and divisional data to individual assets.  It holds regular performance meetings with Stelcorp managers, and has introduced more of an audit and performance management culture.  As a result, managers now largely see themselves as accountable to FEMU.

For further details, including the models of resource dependency and data-related power that underpin this analysis, please refer to the working paper on this topic.

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