5 things Google trends reveals about IT and process excellence

Each year search engine giant Google publishes its year end Zeitgeist, a compendium of the search terms that captured the spirit of the year. Not surprisingly, celebrities and major news events figure high on that list. However, if you plug IT and process excellence terms into Google trends, you can get an altogether different picture of what captures the corporate Zeitgeist.

According to Google Trends, on the up are "big data", "data scientists" and "process agility" while the "cloud computing" hype appears to have finally broken in the middle of last year. Meanwhile, searches for Six Sigma and Quality Management are declining but Lean Six Sigma is holding its own in the battle of the search engine.

Here are the 5 things that Google tells us about trends in technology and process improvement:

#1: Big data has exploded

If you haven’t heard of big data yet, what rock have you been living under? 2012 was the year that big data – effectively bigger volumes and different types of data than we’ve ever been able to analyze before – has come of age. Until the beginning of this year, global search volume for big data was relatively subdued before taking off at the beginning of the year and continuing to climb steadily throughout.

Global searches for big data rose sharply in 2012 (Click to enlarge)

Software and consulting firms see opportunities for Big Data to revolutionize customer management (by giving companies better insight into who their customers are and how they behave), create "smarter" business operations (by enabling devices to communicate with each other and act on that data – think of the new driverless cars – and/or flagging up possible situations so that humans can intervene), and help businesses unlock insights previously impossible to tap into.

#2: Data scientist role increasingly sought after

Not surprisingly, all this data is creating demand for a whole new set of skills. For companies to derive any benefit at all from the investment in the technical infrastructure necessary to support big data, it requires people who can analyze and find insight in it. This is statistics on steroids. According to a recent HBR article, data scientist is going to be the "sexy job" of the 21st century, while Google's Chief Economist Hal Varian predicted that statisticians would be the sexy ones in the year ahead. Statistics getting sexy again? We love it!

Are data scientists putting the "sexy" back in statistics? (click to enlarge)

#3: Companies looking to increase their "process agility"

While productivity and quality have been metrics that have been used in companies for decades in order to help measure performance, there is an increasing recognition that the ability to change can actually be not just a competitive differentiator, but key to business survival. You might be running an efficient ship but if the seas you’re sailing in get stormy you might need to divert course quickly. For many companies, taking that detour can be incredibly expensive and time consuming – especially when legacy IT systems are involved.

Forrester recently published a report explaining the need for adding process agility and customer experience metrics to traditional performance metrics like productivity and efficiency.

"The level of innovators out there coming up with new business models based on consumer technology and social and big data vastly exceed any number of innovators that have existed in the past," said Craig Le Clair in a PEX Network interview about the report. "Companies need to think about their systems and their culture and their organisation to become more flexible in architecture to allow rapid changes to the systems and processes they depend on."

You can download the slides from the report here.

Global searches trends appear to back up the idea that people are starting to factor agility into their process and enterprise architectures:

Are enterprises looking to increase process agility? (click to enlarge)

#4: Cloud computing hype has peaked

Cloud computing – the delivery of software as service over the internet - reached its zenith in mid-2011 in terms of search engine traffic and has been slowly declining ever since:

Cloud computing reached its peak in 2011 (click to enlarge)

Does this mean the death knell for cloud computing? More likely it means that it’s finally gone from high on the hype-meter to much more part of business as usual. Indeed, a CIO Global Cloud computing adoption survey published in January 2011 found that over 88% of the 600+ IT decision makers rated cloud computing as a key priority over the next 18 months, with business agility the top driver for cloud computing (75%). As cloud computing becomes part of the businesses operate, we expect global search traffic for it to die down.

#5: Interest in Six Sigma and Quality Management is waning but Lean Six Sigma is holding steady

From heady heights in 2005, global search volumes have steadily declined for Six Sigma, a process improvement methodology developed in the 1980’s by Motorola. The methodology, which relies heavily on statistical analysis of processes to identify "root causes" of variation really took off in corporate America in the 1990s. It has more recently come under fire for long project lengths at a time when companies need to respond quickly to changing market conditions while its rigorous focus on data has come under criticism for leaving companies slow to innovate.

Searches for Six Sigma have been steadily declining since 2005 (click to enlarge)

The slow decline in searches for Six Sigma corresponds to a similar decline in the searches for quality management:

Quality management follows a similar downward trend (click to enlarge)

This being said, search enquiries for Lean Six Sigma has increased since 2005 and remained relatively stable throughout the financial crisis that began in 2008. This may be partly explained by the fact that lean process improvement, which aims to increase efficiency by emphasising the reduction of non-value added activity, is often seen as an faster method of process improvement and also focuses on efficiency – important at a time when companies can ill afford to carry unnecessary costs.

Lean Six Sigma - holding steady (click to enlarge)

So those are some of the corporate trends in IT and process excellence according to Google. But to put this in perspective, the quest to improve business operations through better use of people, processes and technology pales in comparison to global internet traffic searches of popular culture. Sustained search volumes for one of the most hyped business terms of the year - Big Data – are eclipsed by those generated by a South Korean rapper dancing like a pony. Gangnam style was one of the runaway winners of 2012, becoming the most watched ever video on YouTube and is one of Google’s most searched for terms of the year.

Searches for Gangnam style eclipsed even big data (click to enlarge)

Where's the Psy of process excellence when you need him?