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The waiter eventually arrives with the check

How long can an organization survive if it keeps making mistakes? How competitive can a company be if its decisions are bad ones? Who wants to have their organization continue to perpetuate making decisions with flawed, misleading, or incomplete information?

Gary Cokins
Gary Cokins
Organizations in a “no fact” zone

I continue to be intrigued that almost half of the 25 companies that passed the rigorous tests to be listed in the once famous book by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence, today either no longer exist, are in bankruptcy, or have performed poorly. What happened in the 25 years since the book was published? Ponder this question, “How many of the original Standard and Poors (S&P) 500 list originally created in 1957 are on that list today?” Research from Professor Gary Biddle of the University of Hong Kong reported the answer is 74, just 15%. And of those 74, only 12 have outperformed the S&P index average. Pretty grim. A few years from now will the currently popular book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, reveal the praised companies as laggards?

Perhaps the explanation is that when an organization is does not have superior and timely information, it can be in jeopardy but not realize it. Each new day going forward requires making strategic adjustments to anticipate continuously changing customer needs and counter tactics by competitors. Analytics is about gaining investigating, gaining insights, and making good decisions.

My message here is for an organization to improve its competency with analytics, it must pay a price. There is no free lunch to enjoy gaining those insights through better and deeper analysis. The waiter does always eventually arrive with the check!

Analytics: a culinary delight

At the risk of overusing this restaurant analogy, paying the check will be more than worth it when the food is delicious and fulfilling – especially when one is hungry. However, who has lots of data but is starving for information? (Hands up all of you with transactional CRM and ERP systems – and allegedly business intelligence systems.)

Unfortunately, what can spoil a potentially good dining experience are unskilled cooks in the kitchen using low-grade or stale ingredients. A poor tasting meal adversely affects and reduces the amount of a waiter’s or waitress’ tip regardless how good their service is. Therefore the cooks (IT) and the waiters and waitresses (analysts) need to work together as a team. Unfortunately, a healthy relationship between IT and analysts is not always the case.

The wall between IT and analysts

There is a tall brick wall between IT specialists and analysts. There will need to be a shift from face-to-face adversarial confrontation to a side-by-side collaborative relationship to remove this wall. Part of the problem is how IT and analysts view each other.

Analysts view IT as an obstructionist and uncooperative gatekeeper of data without the skills to convert that data into useful information. Experienced analysts want easy and flexible access to the data and the ability to manipulate it. They want a set of capabilities for investigation and discovery. IT typically tries to prevent this. Analysts view IT as bureaucrats who manage a set of technologies and whose main goal is to keep the lights on.

In contrast, IT increasingly views users as competitors who may solve problems but don’t have to operate the solutions – they just make it harder to better manage capacity costs by using too many IT resources. And IT sees users as a risky group that has low regard for data governance and security.

The five-star restaurant experience

Ultimately both IT and its users will need to collaborate and compromise by better understanding and appreciating each other’s changing roles and needs.

Imagine that your organization has overcome the barriers and obstacles to fully embrace analytics. Let’s then dine at “(fill in your organization’s name) Bistro.” They know how to cook great cusine – to convert ingredients (data) into cuisine (information). If this restaurant is truly your organization, then I enthusiastically say to the customers (the business users), “Bon Apetit!”

Gary Cokins, CPIM
(; phone: 919-531-2012)

Gary Cokins (Cornell University BS IE/OR, 1971; Northwestern University Kellogg MBA 1974) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in advanced cost management and enterprise performance and risk management systems. He is a Principal in business consulting involved with analytics-based enterprise performance management solutions with SAS, a global leader in business intelligence and analytics software. He began his career in industry with a Fortune 100 company in CFO and operations roles. He then worked 15 years in consulting with Deloitte, KPMG, and EDS. His two most recent books are Performance Management: Finding the Missing Pieces to Close the Intelligence Gap (ISBN 0-471-57690-5) and Performance Management: Integrating Strategy Execution, Methodologies, Risk, and Analytics (ISBN 978-0-470-44998-1). Mr. Cokins can be contacted at gary.
123 words.

Mardi 3 Avril 2012

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