Data doesn't always translate to good decisions

Domo Inc

By Paul Harapin*
Friday, 04 August, 2017

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Businesses can make more efficient and better proactive decisions by involving more people outside the C-suite.

Everybody makes decisions. Every hour, every day. We tend to forget that simple fact when we try to improve decision-making processes in business. Senior leaders and executives aren’t the only ones whose choices affect operations and profitability: virtually all employees can influence these things by way of their workplace habits, the technologies they use (or abuse), and how they respond to unforeseen or challenging circumstances.

In fact, the term ‘decision-maker’ can apply to anyone — and that raises some big questions about how, and to whom, we provide tools to help improve those decisions.

Those decisions should be more efficient and proactive than ever before, thanks to the huge amounts of data at our disposal — at least, that’s how the story usually goes. Yet very few businesses have managed to convert their wealth of data into more effective actions.

This largely happens because traditional business intelligence (BI) and analytics tools simply describe what has occurred in a particular situation or process. They can’t, or don’t, go the extra mile to help decision-makers fashion an understanding, and then a response, to what they’ve captured.

If we really want to make better decisions based on data, we have to rethink who gets to access it and how they do so. By democratising tools and platforms that optimise business functions, instead of just describing the status quo, businesses can improve not only their overall performance, but also the level of cohesion and collaboration between all levels of the organisation, from mailroom to the boardroom.

The myth of decision-makers

Many organisations incorrectly assume that their key decision-makers are the ones who sit on the board or have a ‘C’ in their title. In fact, the most important decision-makers are often those employees directly involved in operations.

Take, for example, the BYOD phenomenon, where executive decision-makers such as CIOs have lost out to the choices of those employees ostensibly under their control. The entire ‘shadow IT’ movement resulted from employees taking matters into their own hands — showing not only that they had the ability to do so, but that their choices could impact organisation-wide performance in areas like security and data privacy.

It’s clear from the BYO phenomenon — which has spread to apps and even cloud services — that businesses need to cultivate better decisions at not just the executive level, but throughout their organisational hierarchies. This requires IT to rethink who gets access to the software tools and platforms that enhance decision-making, and which tools they end up using.

Tactical decision-makers — the ones facing customers and handling operations — face different problems to strategic decision-makers in the boardroom, but the data they rely on will come from many of the same organisational and external sources.

Does everyone in the organisation require access to BI and analytics platforms to perform better? Probably not. BI and analytics platforms only handle a relatively specific set of needs.

But a wide cross-section of the business, with markedly different responsibilities and demands for assistance, require business optimisation and decision-making software that not only gives them the intelligence they need, but the collaborative and responsive capabilities to effectively handle any situation.

To handle the needs of all these decision-makers, IT must provide them with tools that not only give them access to the data they need, but customise their functionality based on the types of decisions they’re expected to make.

Bridging the ‘action gap’

Research by IDC suggests that in the past 12 months, nearly 75% of employees have struggled to act on the data at their disposal. This ‘decision paralysis’ comes from the way in which BI and analytics platforms traditionally deliver data — as a set of isolated metrics, without much in the way of context or continuity.

Even experienced analysts find it difficult to translate this data into a way to solve business problems.

Additionally, the vast majority of these ‘reports’ come after the fact, thus meaning the majority of time is spend determining why something has happened, agreeing on those facts, and then, and only then, commencing the decision-making process.

How can we bridge the gap between information and action? How do we enable the organisation’s overall strategy and break that into cross-functional goals, then individual metrics which are transparent and all relate to the strategy, but in an individually influential sense?

In this case, we extend the role of software further along the decision-making process. Business optimisation platforms help to model the likely results of decisions that employees or executives might take. They should support greater collaboration in the decision-making process, allowing for multiple employees or groups to view, test and compare the modelled and real-time results of their choices.

And they must measure the impact of the actions that the business eventually takes — so that both employees and the software itself can learn from the experience.

To turn data into good decisions — and optimise business performance — we need to go beyond the traditional scope of BI, analytics and visualisation to draw together all facets of the organisation and encompass all users, not just IT or analysts. This applies to how the software contextualises data, but also to how it gives decision-makers, from all levels of the organisation, a common platform on which to test, discuss, compare and decide on their responses to business challenges.

Everyone makes decisions, but not always together. To truly optimise performance, business leaders have to not only recognise that decision-makers exist outside of the C-suite, but that every decision-maker has his or her own unique needs.

When a software platform can account for that variety, while also bringing people together to coordinate their actions, the results will make it clear that they’ve made the right decision.

*Paul Harapin is Vice-President and General Manager, APJ, for business intelligence software specialist Domo.

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