The United Arab Emirates (UAE) officially launched the United Nations (UN) “Big Data Sustainable Development” platform on 25 January 2022. This is part of the country’s national agenda for harnessing the power of big data, while at the same time adhering to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Under this agenda, the UN hopes to steer the world towards “universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination”. The term sustainability, as used in the context of the UN platform and the UAE initiative, includes economic, social and environmental sustainability.
Well before 2022, big data technologies and strategies had already been used in both the public and private sectors of the UAE – enough for employees to form a strong opinion.
To feed into the national debate about how to ensure the success of the government’s big data initiative, Zayed University researcher Syed Mustapha conducted a study that explored employee perception of big data technologies and strategies in an organisation, and the impact that has on the performance of projects in the UAE. The research was published in November 2022.
Studies had already been conducted on other critical factors in implementing big data initiatives. For example, one study found, not surprisingly, that data quality had a significant impact on the quality of decision-making. Other studies focused on economic, environmental and social aspects as critical factors. Still others looked at how sales growth, supply chain management and the quality of accounting are affected by big data.
However, no previous study had shown how important employee perception is to the success of a big data project. That’s what sets Mustapha’s work apart. “We need to recognise that the challenges may not come primarily from the technology,” he told Computer Weekly. “The motivation of this research work is to investigate factors that may come from other dimensions.”
Discovering employee perception of the critical factors of success
The study was based on an online survey of randomly selected employees. A Likert-style five-point scale was used, and tested for validity and reliability. Employees were asked about the critical factors for success of a big data project, including technological factors, organisational factors and people factors. They were also asked about their perception of the contribution of the project to a more sustainable future.
“We need to recognise that the challenges may not come primarily from the technology. The motivation of this research work is to investigate factors that may come from other dimensions” Syed Mustapha, Zayed University
Most of the respondents (58.8%) believed that big data was sustainably implemented in their organisations. And employees generally believed that the sustainable implementation of big data projects had a direct and positive impact on the business performance of their organisations.
“In general, the findings suggest that employees strongly think the quality of big data infrastructure is an essential factor for sustainability of implementations,” said Mustapha. “This includes the scalability, interoperability and connectivity aspects to support the five characteristics of big data, which are volumes, velocity, values, varieties and veracity.”
“Other factors are organisational readiness and human cognitive factors,” he said. “The entire organisational setting has to be aligned with the governance of implementation, which includes the creation of a new position that focuses on policy, planning, monitoring, execution and evaluation.
“It is also essential for an organisation to measure employee awareness, capacity for innovation and cognitive abilities to assimilate the new paradigm shift. The culmination of the entire big data adoption is its impact to business performance in terms of profitability, customer satisfaction, efficient services and the organisation’s reputation.”
Enhancing chances for success by improving employee perception
As is the case in other countries in the region, one of the important pillars of the UAE’s overall technology strategy is to help young people build skills and capabilities in new technologies. Big data and artificial intelligence (AI) are two of the most important technologies that will contribute to long-term success of the country.
Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, minister of state for artificial intelligence, digital economy and teleworking applications, views data as the “true wealth of the government of the future and the main tool for developing next-generation government services”.
One challenge faced in big data projects in the region is that most large and transformative projects are conceived and implemented in a very top-down manner. Almost all decisions are taken at the top and eventually trickle down to the level of the average employee.
On an optimistic note, the UAE has always shown huge ambition and a willingness to go full speed ahead to achieve its goals. In this case, going full speed ahead may mean making sure employees are fully on board from the beginning. Organisations in the public and private sectors would do well to consider Mustapha’s research, which points to the importance of adding at least a touch of a bottom-up approach to their methodology for implementing large projects.
“The study provides a framework for investigating the critical success factors that influence the sustainability of the big data implementation,” said Mustapha. “It covered a wide-ranging community of big data employees. But the same framework can be replicated using similar constructs on specific government agencies or private companies using their own samples. It is essential for all organisations to ensure the critical factors are in place to ensure big data sustainability in the long run.”
At a bare minimum, management should make sure employees understand the vision and have a good perception of how the project contributes to a more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable world. Doing so will help ensure the success of the UAE’s Big Data Sustainable Development initiative.