Data can’t unlock business success without people

July 28, 2021, 9:52 AM UTC

Good morning.

Data may be the “new oil” of the global economy, but it is still people and culture that drive business success. That was my takeaway from Fortune’s virtual CEO Roundtable on “Unlocking the Power of Data” yesterday, held in partnership with Salesforce. Some excerpts from the conversation:

“Data is everywhere, and data sets and predictive analytics are important. But the power of human beings to access data and digest that data easily are also very important. We have to have our eyes on what’s happening from the macro perspective…and be able to connect all those dots.”
—Nancy Green, CEO, Old Navy

“You need that ability to combine the data with that human capability and get A.I. and Machine Learning to help those humans be so much more effective…It is that human insight and that human ability that helps you take the jump from raw data and make sense of it.”
—Mark Nelson, CEO, Tableau Software

“I’ve been in the data space for almost 30 years…and you know, one of the things that I’ve learned about data is that it’s really good at modeling stuff where you’re feeding it the data, and it’s really bad at coming up with solutions for a better future.”
—Mohamad Ali, CEO, IDG, Inc.

“There’s a very small slice of the human population that even wants to be a data analyst.”
—Peter Brereton, CEO, Tecsys

“I think the explosion of data analysts as a job is a real problem in our industry, not a solution. The answer is to democratize the data…so that’s it’s consumable by the businesspeople that we trust to drive these processes.”
—Brent Hayward, CEO, MuleSoft

More news below.

Alan Murray


Big Tech

Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft posted stellar results yesterday, with combined quarterly profits reaching $57 billion. In Alphabet's case, massive growth in Google advertising led to a 3% share-price bump, but Apple fell and Microsoft was flat, perhaps due to rising fears over the Delta variant's economic impact. Fortune

Google Germany

Google is suing over a new provision in Germany's hate-speech law that allows law enforcement to demand people's data before it is clear that a crime has been committed. Sabine Frank, YouTube's local public policy chief: "This massive intervention in the rights of our users stands, in our view, not only in conflict with data protection, but also with the German constitution and European law." Reuters

Shooting war

If you think cyberattacks are annoying now, wait until they lead to an actual war. President Biden, in a speech to intelligence staff: "If we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach." No names named, though Putin's apparently came up very soon after. Financial Times

Activision apology

Activision Blizzard has apologized for the company's responses to a recent sexual discrimination and harassment suit by California authorities. Employees called for a walkout after corporate affairs EVP Fran Townsend emailed the workforce to call the allegations "distorted and untrue." Now CEO Bobby Kotick calls the response "tone deaf." Fortune


AstraZeneca safety

You know those extremely rare incidents of blood clotting after the first shot of AstraZeneca/Oxford's vaccine? A study suggests the same (small) risk is not there after getting the second jab. Reuters

Flight A.I.

Alaska Airlines is broadly rolling out a flight-planning A.I. that it's been trialing for the last year, resulting in big jet-fuel savings and lower emissions. Flight operations chief Pasha Saleh: "This is as game changing for aviation as Google Maps and Waze has been for driving." Fortune

Delta vs offices

Disaster Avoidance Experts CEO Gleb Tsipursky says it's "pure folly to pursue a normal office return" in the context of the Delta variant's surge: "The reason that so many large employers fail to listen to the concerns of employees, whether about their work preferences or their health, stems from the wishful thinking of dangerous judgment errors called cognitive biases. These mental blindspots lead to poor strategic and financial decision-making when evaluating options." Fortune

VR appraisal

Here's a good (and provocatively titled) Wired piece about how virtual reality just hasn't taken off, no matter how much Big Tech throws at it. The problem, it posits, is not the technology—which is pretty much there now—but rather a lack of vision. Wired

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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