Data and Decision Making
Published 29-April-2020

Image credit: Ian Lindsay

Do you have a Data Elephant in the room?

There is a story originating from the Indian subcontinent in which six blindfolded men were asked to determine what the thing before them is by touching it. One says the thing is a tree; one a hand fan; to another it feels like a wall and another it is like a spear; yet another says it is like a snake; and the last one says it is like a rope.

Each describes what he is holding in terms of something he has knowledge of and interprets the whole to be like the part.  None is wrong in their specific description and yet they cannot describe the whole, even if their descriptions are combined.

None can describe the item before them because whilst each has hold of a major part, together or alone they are insufficient to describe an Elephant. This is because the information they have is insufficient to provide an accurate understanding.

Only if they take off their blindfolds and increase their knowledge of the whole can they begin to ‘see’ the elephant as it really is.

This holds true for business operations, projects and organisations as a whole. Most build understanding by piecing together ‘silos’ of data from specific applications that describe part of the business in detail. The content of these silos is then combined to provide an understanding of the whole business. However, this ignores the data that isn’t collected and there’s a tendency to simply ignore the fact that it is missing. This is the culture that has grown up around the Big Data approach.

The idea of Big Data has the implicit assumption that the data required to give insights is present in the big volume collected and the only thing standing in the way of huge beneficial insight is the ability to analyse it. However, if the data you need isn’t present, no amount of analysis will give you the answers you seek, or worse still answers you believe correct are in fact not.

The ‘elephant in the room’ is that the right data is required to create understanding that can be used to make better decisions and consequentially undertake better actions. This requires an understanding of what is collected from the data landscape and what is not and then deciding what additional data would improve decision making and performance.

What is also required is an understanding of the frequency of collection to determine how far behind the event the reporting is taking place, as reducing the time lag will speed up decision making and improve outcomes. Increasing the volume of the right data and the frequency of collection is critical to improving decision speed and achieving the best outcomes.

We can adapt Coveys Jar. This approach demonstrates that you can cram everything you have to do in your life by putting pebbles of different sizes into a jar.  This shows that only if you put the big stuff in first can you get everything in.

This is what has been widely done with data. The big systems have been put in first. Big systems are liked. They are liked so much that attempts have been made to remove alternative ‘tools’. This especially applies to the attempted eradication of Microsoft Excel® spreadsheets, a tool that gives individuals freedom to do what is needed and innovate. This brainwashing and enforced discipline is a common mantra among big systems vendors and app suppliers.

However, human behaviour and the functionality of the apps and systems means that people still use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Because they like them and have the skills to use them to do what is needed. The problem with them is that they aren’t joined up to anything. They create a ‘wild-west’ landscape of disconnected and in some cases ‘outlaw’ data capture. Not only that but masses of double-working takes place along with error-prone manual copy & paste including the copying in of data from other applications.

The solution isn’t to create further silos and eradicate spreadsheets, but to embrace what people like and want to use. The answer is to take off the blindfolds and acknowledge there’s an Elephant in the Room. Improve and expand the use of Microsoft Excel using the ‘connected spreadsheet technology’ of Connected Intelligence™ that transforms Excel into an enterprise system.

Connected Intelligence™ makes this quick and easy to do and rapidly enables everyone to be working with the full picture and a better understanding of the Elephant in the Room!

When you have a more complete picture and a better understanding of your business operations, reducing costs, improving management, reducing risk and speeding up delivery are just a few of the benefits that become easier to achieve. All of this can be done without the usual disruption, lengthy timescales and high cost of typical IT projects.

Not only that, but because Connected Intelligence™ is highly agile and flexible it enables new data to be added easily so your understanding can remain up to date as the operating environment changes. Oh, and I almost forgot, it also reduces the lag time between the event and it being understood. This is particularly useful in managing and designing responses to the unexpected, like the current pandemic. To get Connected Intelligence™ operating in your organisation as soon as possible, contact me at james.bryant@greenlightchange.com.

Connected Intelligence - Connecting you to Smarter

- James Bryant

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