The Year of the Bologna Sandwich

Posted by Kate Jurras on Tue, Dec 11, 2012

perry 2 resized 600This is the time of year when we reflect on the past, and look to the future. Through the end of January 2013 (2013!) we'll be sharing guest blog posts our the annual Predictions & Reflections series. We asked some of our smarters guest writers to reflect on the past year and look to the upcoming year.

This post is by Perry Hewitt. Perry is an established leader in digital strategy and marketing communications, with extensive experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors. Perry works as Harvard's first Chief Digital Officer, where she is charged with the University’s efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy for digital communications and engagement, as well as to establish digital best practices and emerging digital initiatives. In related news, she spends far too much time on the internet — you can find her at or @perryhewitt.

The biggest trend in 2013 will be a business process shift to what I elegantly deem the "bologna sandwich model" of humans and machines. That means: this will be the year organizations figure out how to use employees not to replace technology (“Would someone please go find and count those Twitter mentions?”) but to envision and interpret it. In the bologna sandwich model, the people are the bread: on one end, they’re the strategy, envisioning the technology needed to move the business goals forward; on the other end, they are the interpreters of the technology – what patterns are emerging, what do the analytics tell us, and how do we refine our approach?

A sexier answer would be “the cloud – everywhere” or "big data" or “the internet of things” – and those ideas are dead on. If those Black Friday numbers are any indication, in 2013 mobile in particular will continue its rapid acceleration into our everyday lives. But to me the seismic shift will be getting the human-machine interplay right so that we’re neither Luddites nor slaves to Utopian automation. We need to use humans and machines for what they’re best at: for the former, strategy and interpretation; for the latter: data mining and analytics. Nate Silver’s victory in the 2012 presidential election provides the anecdata that will be the tipping point for a thoughtful, data-driven approach.

What's the biggest industry challenge related to that prediction? The inherent skills gap between many high school and college graduates and the world of work. We still need critical thinkers, and we also need people with quantitative skills to be everything from entry-level data analysts to the blue-collar coders that all businesses – not just tech firms – will require. For the bologna sandwich, you’ll need tech-savvy leaders to drive the strategy, and data scientists to interpret the results. How will we solve for this? In 2013, I’m confident you will see both traditional and non-traditional educational models develop innovative responses to that challenge.