Geek girls

It can be hard for women at the top of the corporate ladder to really drive change, as the female CIOs of the Home Office, RSPCA and LGC recently told CIO UK.  Moderating a panel at the recent Women in Technology Summit, though, columnist Rob Enderle discovered that women outside the C-suite are driving change at many technology companies.

Suddenly we have a lot of women CEOs, both inside and outside of the technology industry. While this certainly represents change, it falls far short of the potential. Most seem to struggle in their roles, too, which speaks more to an across-the-board lack of mentoring for top executives but seems more prevalent in women executives because there are fewer of them. Thus, they stand out more.

I see no evidence that female CEOs are any better or worse than male CEOs, especially when they're thrown into the top spot without adequate preparation. Below the CEO, though, in companies such as Dell, HP and Intel, women are having a profound impact on their companies - and one effort underway could eventually make all CEOs more successful, regardless of gender, by restoring effective mentoring.

This came to me as I moderated a panel on big data analytics for Women in Technology Summit. As I listened to the panelists - Anjul Bhambhri, vice president of big data and streams at IBM; Yael Garten, manager of mobile data science at LinkedIn, and Cheemin Bo-Linn, president of the analytics consulting firm Peritus Partners - it became clear I wasn't looking hard enough below the office of CEO to see the positive changes that women bring to the technology segment.

An increased use of analytics stands at the core of much of the coming change. Let's look at three examples that showcase how women executives are driving change in technology, and the world, through information-based decision making.

Dell's Karen Quintos: Turning the CMO Into a Closing Machine

Most companies first use data analytics in the marketing department, so that's where most of the skills for best using this tool are developed.

Women dominate marketing, and the skill you need to sell a product is that of a user, not an engineer. At Dataquest a number of years back, a study and concluded that user advocates, by a massive margin, represented the most effective closing tool.

Dell CMO Karen Quintos is a closing machine brought to Dell to showcase not only what products do but how customers benefits from them - and, more importantly, how to achieve those benefits. By using data analytics properly, she's not only changing the effectiveness of marketing at Dell, but also for each and every Dell customer.

Through both example and direct effort, this should dramatically change which companies win and lose, and what you and I buy over time. Quintos had me thinking that female executives are an untapped resource to be the driving power, both for sales and execution, behind big data analytics.

HP's Tracy Keogh: Changing Employees From Costs to Strategic Assets

I've argued that Tracy Keogh, HP's executive vice president of HR, is the only strategic HR head I've seen in a large company. HP has joined Dell and Microsoft to eliminate forced ranking, realising that it's perhaps the stupidest policy to ever come to market.

On top of that, Keogh's systematic, data-centric approach to addressing what had been a horrid employee problem left over from a CEO who nearly crippled the company has focused on improving employee working conditions and employee tools, as well as identifying, retaining and acquiring critical skill sets. (Granted, huge layoffs have offset her efforts as HP moves to recreate itself in the face of massive industry change.)

I left human resources because HR mostly became a compliance organisation in the 1970s, tossing out decades of science. At HP, though, Keogh is driving the science back into HR (another segment dominated by women). At the Women in Technology Summit, this idea resonated with my panelists and the audience. People are a firm's most valuable asset, but their treatment rarely reflects this value. Folks like Keogh, with the help of analytics, are changing this - and making companies far more successful.

HP hasn't started using Keogh the way Dell uses Quintos to close deals. But nothing's stopping HP from doing so. Keogh's changes should ensure that the next HP CEO will be effectively mentored into the job.

Intel's Genevieve Bell: Building Human-focused Products and a Better Future

Intel's Genevieve Bell, the firm's director of interaction, experience and research, is perhaps the most interesting of the power players, largely because she's studying people to help Intel and other firms to build a better future.

Bell is one of the few social anthropologists used in business - and she's, by far, the most visible and powerful. She runs a good deal of Intel's labs effort and has been instrumental in helping Intel see beyond the tactical horizon and into a future that's not only better for Intel but better for the rest of us.

Bell's team of futurists includes Brian David Johnson, who's published pieces on greed and technology and is now looking at 3-D printed robots and other ways to get kids excited about science and technology.

Robots likely represent Intel's greatest emerging revenue opportunity. This effort puts resources behind it, allowing Intel to benefits from this market change, but also assures that robots aren't overly focused on military applications. Intel recognised early on that funding intelligent machines designed to kill people wasn't a great way to assure the human race would survive the next big change.

Focusing on products that are more intuitive to use, that fit into our lives rather than disrupt them, and that make the world a happier place - rather than the nightmare that some imagine - is perhaps the biggest, and I'd argue most important, job in tech.

Better Decisions, Not Faster Decisions, Will Change the World

Every one of these women showcase how data analytics can improve their company as well as their position in it. They prove that analysis, not gut instinct, leads to better results. They exemplify the importance of all three parts of data analytics - closing the deal, managing employees and making decisions.

In the end, our companies, our lives and our world will get better when men or women making better decisions, not faster ones. Fortunately, with data analytics, you don't have to sacrifice quality for speed.

Lastly, we should focus less on the technology behind data analytics and more on the skills needed to use data right. Otherwise, the decision maker will be the weakest link. These three very different executives showcase the opposite: Through their actions and results, decision makers can actually be the strongest link.

Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group.