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The Decision Factor offers insightful comments and observations on analytics—from views on new technology approaches and market dynamics to the latest industry trends driving demand for faster, smarter information analysis. This blog contains personal views, thoughts, and opinions from SAP employees, mentors, and friends working in the area of analytics. It’s not endorsed by SAP nor does it constitute an official communication of SAP.

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BI Does Not Guarantee Better Decisions, Only Better-Informed Decisions

BI Does Not Guarantee Better Decisions, Only Better-Informed DecisionsIn my blog, What is Business Intelligence (BI), I talked about faster, better-informed decision making. I want to expand on these two key pieces. What does it mean when we say “faster” decision making? And why do we say “better-informed” decisions instead of “better decisions?”

Putting aside the semantic differences and nuances of meaning, these two concepts play a significant role in delivering BI solutions that can address both the urgency needed by business and the agility required by IT. Moreover, exploring these concepts–regardless of your interpretation—will further facilitate better engagements and result in tangible outcomes that can benefit the entire organization, both in the short term and in the long run.

BI Is All About Speed When Capitalizing on Opportunities

Speed plays a more important role than ever before when capitalizing on opportunities, whether it contributes to growth or bottom line. Moreover, speed plays a role in every facet of business transactions—sometimes before even a transaction is completed—where business data is born or created. We no longer operate in the world of business PCs, which are chained at desks and accessed during bankers/working hours. Instead, mobility fuels global transactions that take place around the clock.

  • Speed dictates our options. For example, when the opportunity to enter a new market or adjust a marketing campaign variables presents itself, the need for insight grows exponentially as we consider our options to react while the clock is ticking. As questions are formulated both about the past and future, historical data provides only a starting point for decisions that will eventually impact our company’s future direction. This phenomenon doesn’t happen only occasionally or based on a fixed and predictable schedule, which would allow us to prepare our teams.
  • Business operations are modeled to match the pace of change even if our existing infrastructure isn’t equipped to handle the heavy load and sudden curves of the road. We often hear the words “uncertainty” and “risk” when executives talk about trying to make business decisions.
  • The questions we ask today aren’t the same ones we asked last week, nor are they the questions we’ll ask next week. We can no longer deliver business information (forget insight for a moment) using the traditional methods that may require longer periods of fertilization. Hence, “faster” demands speed and agility, both of which require not only ability but also accuracy.

The speed at which we gain insight is critical because it allows us to take advantage of the opportunity at full throttle. Agility is essential because most of these opportunities or challenges don’t RSVP before they show up at our door step. They are identified by talented individuals that move organizations forward. Ability is what makes this whole thing feasible under pressure. Besides, how can we even talk about insight if we don’t have the data or can’t obtain it to begin with? Accuracy—even if it isn’t perfect—plays a vital part because many times we can’t afford unforced errors that would otherwise defeat the purpose of data-driven decision making.

BI Can Make Us Better-Informed Decision Makers—But It Does Not Necessarily Make Us Smarter

With the exception of those automated business processes, such as online credit card applications, many critical business decisions are still made by humans (despite what many sci-fi movies portray). Whether we’re developing a business strategy or executing that strategy, leaders and managers still want to rely on insight derived from solid business data. Though there are many factors that play into the decision-making process, ultimately our goal must be to employ data-based analysis and to look at the evidence using critical thinking.

Data has to be solid, otherwise it becomes “garbage in/garbage out.” Do we have the single version of the truth? Do we trust the data? Do we ask the right questions? We need to be ready and willing to admit that we may be wrong about our assumptions or conclusion if we can identify flaws (supported by reliable data) in our initial assessment. We must be willing to play devil’s advocate. And maybe, we don’t blink but think twice when we can afford it. As the old saying goes, “measure twice and cut once.”

It doesn’t matter how we get there, data alone will not suffice—we know that. All of these variables will inevitably shape not only the final decision we make, but also the path we choose to arrive there. History is filled with examples of leaders making “bad” decisions even in light of ample amounts of data to support the decision making process.

We may not be able to prevent all of the bad or flawed decisions, but we can promote a culture of data-driven decision making at all levels of our organization so that corporate data is seen as a strategic asset. Informed patients are able to make better-informed healthcare decisions. Informed consumers are able to make better-informed buying decisions. Likewise, BI should be a framework to enable “better-informed” decision making at all levels of an organization, while still allowing the final call to lie with us—the humans (at least for now).

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