Skip the fire drills

Using a modeling approach to become more data driven

By Aiman Zeid, Global Consultant, SAS

Does this sound familiar? Sales plunge or profits sag. Everyone scrambles to react. A technical team is assembled. Data is gathered and analyzed.

Meanwhile, another unit or division is holding its own data gathering and analysis fire drill. It could be using the same data, or a different set. It could be analyzing the contents the same way as other units – or an entirely different way. It could come up with a slightly different interpretation of what is going on – or a wildly different one. No matter what happens, executives are left scratching their heads as they try to make the right decision.

And as soon as the next crisis arises the whole process starts over. It’s an ad hoc way to use information to drive decision making and it’s all too common in companies around the world.
But there is a better way.

Working with a model and focusing on improving the maturity of the people, process, technology and culture can’t happen without executive support.

Think people, process, technology and culture

To move beyond the fire-drill mentality, organizations need to think about the people, processes, technology and culture that are involved in – and drive -- their use of information. By aligning these four pillars, organizations can succeed at using information in an ongoing, flexible and holistic way that treats it as a strategic asset worthy of time and attention.

Note that technology isn’t the first pillar mentioned. This is because the biggest mistake organizations make is to try and buy their way out of an information jam with technology.

But technology can’t be used effectively without skilled individuals, well thought out processes and a culture that supports the use of information to make decisions.

Work with a model

Following a model can feel a bit like engineering a product; but simply saying “let’s hire better people, assign a committee to come up with a process, buy some technology and change the culture,” doesn’t work. Using an information maturity model can go a great way toward helping your organization understand where you are and where you would like to go.

An information maturity model helps define the growth-killing behavior of Level I (individual) companies with their data hoarders and gut instinct-based decision making and the wasteful silo’d mentality of Level II (departmental) companies – where data is analyzed well within departments units but not across the entire enterprise. It details what happens at higher levels where organizations begin to develop a broad and deep view of their information to make decisions that make the organization much more competitive.

Put a model into action

Working with a model and focusing on improving the maturity of the people, process, technology and culture can’t happen without executive support.

Executive support seems like an obvious need – but it often overlooked. You don’t just need a C-level individual providing tangential support, they must advocate for this process with their peers. Their support is critical to changing the culture that often short circuits data-based decision making efforts by reverting to gut instinct.

Centers of Excellence (CoE) are a hugely popular way to support the company’s effort in promoting the use of analytics and business insight. They are also often poorly designed. To increase a company’s information maturity, a CoE does not always do the analytics work, it helps create a framework for everyone in the company using data to make better decisions. These organizations should not be bottlenecks -- they should be enablers (in the best sense of that word).

I was talking with an executive from a company that has done a particularly good job of using information to drive decisions and asked how their culture has changed. In his mind becoming a very data-driven company is akin to breathing – the use of data must be automatic. It can’t be project based, ad hoc or in response to a problem. He could not have said it better.

Aiman Zeid is the author of the newly published Business Transformation: A Roadmap for Maximizing Organizational Insights and a SAS global consultant. He has more than a decade of experience helping organizations develop a sophisticated and successful approach to using information.