Daily Archives: April 10, 2012

Good Data Will Not Guarantee Good Decisions

It was great to see this recent article in the Harvard Business Review on how Good Data Won’t Guarantee Good Decisions now that we are in the age of “Big Data” (which, in business, is Bullshit in Guise) and everyone is diving into their OLAP and reporting tools without even a clue as to what they are (or should be) looking for. There’s data. There’s information. There’s knowledge. There’s the intelligence required to understand it. And then there’s the wisdom to choose the right course of action.

As the authors state, investments in analytics can be useless, even harmful, unless employees can incorporate that data into complex decision making.

In the article, the authors summarized the result of a study by the Corporate Executive Board that evaluated 5,000 employees at 22 global companies. The study separated the employees into three groups:

  • Unquestioning Empiricists
    who trust analysis over judgment
  • Visceral Decision Makers
    that go exclusively with their gut and
  • Informed Skeptics
    who effectively balance judgment and analysis with their strong analytic skills and willingness to listen to others’ opinions but dissent.

Only the latter group are equipped to make good decisions, and, not unexpectedly, only 38% of employees and 50% of senior managers fall into this group.

And when you consider that their analysis also found that the functions where the employees had the highest average scores performed 24% better than other functions across a wide range of metrics (including effectiveness, productivity, employee engagement, and market-share growth), this is not a good thing.

Why is this the case? The researchers identified the following four problems that prevent organizations from realizing better returns on their data investment:

  • analytic skills are concentrated in too few employees
    just because you have a few experts doesn’t mean that the analytics skills will trickle down
  • IT spends too much time on “T” and not enough on “I”
    IT is used to working with functions where business needs are clearly defined, stable, and relatively consistent … when the needs become less defined, IT becomes less able to support them
  • reliable information is hard to locate
    many organizations lack a coherent, accessible structure for the data they’ve collected; the authors found in their survey that fewer than 44% of employees say they know where to find the information they need for their day-to-day work
  • business executives don’t manage information well
    (at least when compared to capital and brand) — they focus on more physical or traditional assets

While not addressed, and possibly not covered, by the study, I’d also add the following to the list:

  • No Good Roadmaps Exist
    Analytics skills are not enough — a guide on how to find the needle in the haystack is also required; take Spend Analysis for example … how many practical guides exist? (At least one.)
  • Lack of EQ
    as an employee needs to not only understand where to look, but when something is worthwhile to chase and when it’s not as there is a need to understand the business impact of what the data might be suggesting which requires understanding the business needs as well as the data

So what can an organization do to get more informed skeptics?