Competing on Decisions - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management
Commentary
2/11/2008
08:22 AM
Neil Raden
Neil Raden
Commentary
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Competing on Decisions

Harvard Business Review recently hosted a two-day conference in Miami called "Think!Analytics," featuring Tom Davenport and Jeanne Harris, co-authors of the current best-seller, "Competing on Analytics."... Tom and company are starting to talk about decisions, not just analytics. Here is why that really caught my attention...

Harvard Business Review recently hosted a two-day conference in Miami called Think!Analytics (not to be confused with the firm with the same name sans the exclamation point) featuring Tom Davenport and Jeanne Harris, co-authors of the current best-seller, Competing on Analytics. Some of you may remember that I was pretty tough on Tom when the article of the same name came out in the Harvard Business Review in January, 2006, but we've since mended our fences; so much so that I went to Miami to join the festivities and Tom has agreed to keynote the Enterprise Decision Summit in October which James Taylor and I are co-chairing.Tom was understandably morose over the failure of his nearly-perfect football team the day before, but he recovered smartly and used the experience to drive home his points about the value of using analytics to excel (with a lower-case "e"). The attendees were largely analytically savvy business people with only a small representation of professional IT, but I still got the feeling that there was an over-sampling of go-to-guys - the people in the business units who know how to crunch the numbers and apply software to solve their problems.

Tom and Jeanne's presentations were about what you'd expect, which is not a criticism. The breakout sessions were more interactive and the one I was part of raised some very interesting topics. I had to leave before the case studies were presented, sadly, but I did come back with one really big takeaway - Tom et cie are starting to talk about decisions, not just analytics. Here is why that really caught my attention.

James Taylor and I wrote a book last year, Smart (Enough) Systems: How to Deliver Competitive Advantage by Unleashing Hidden Decisions. Our central premise is that the focus on data and analytics is great, but the whole point is to make decisions, to close the loop. Some decisions are big and are perhaps informed by data, but are still made by people. But the high volume, low visibility decisions are the ones that define your company. Today's business systems are smart enough to do a better job if implemented properly.

Effective March 1, James Taylor and I are forming a new company, Smart (enough) Systems LLC, which is focused on the enterprise decision management marketplace, providing research, advisory and implementation services. Our focus is the automation and improvement of operational decisions to solve business problems such as business agility, operational business intelligence, analytic competition and business process management. Our goal is raise the awareness that it doesn't take a new class of software or AI to assemble systems that can make decisions and can be configured and continuously tweaked by domain experts, not IT.

Tom told me that it was clear that something formal is needed to get beyond the analytics steps to turn actionable information into a closed loop of decisions, including decision automation. Until now, the common perception was that analytics was an off-line process that informed the thinking of high-level decision-makers. In some cases, predictive models were applied to solve certain point solutions (like the well-known casino application that watches gamblers in real time and gives them a free ticket to the buffet if they lose too much, or the baseball teams that crunched numbers all the way to the World Series), but in Smart (Enough) Systems, we lay out the architecture for building more enterprise-scale solutions where rules, assumptions, algorithms, etc. can be shared across many applications.

My takeaway is that Tom Davenport, who is extremely influential (and that is not a criticism either) is going to be raising the awareness of the need to look beyond the organization of analytics competency centers to the larger problem of applying these skills to making better decisions, both large and small. We are surely in sync on that one.

For whatever reason, I'd never been to Miami before. I liked it. So my suggestion to the industry is, let's move all of those Orlando venues to Miami!Harvard Business Review recently hosted a two-day conference in Miami called "Think!Analytics," featuring Tom Davenport and Jeanne Harris, co-authors of the current best-seller, "Competing on Analytics."... Tom and company are starting to talk about decisions, not just analytics. Here is why that really caught my attention...

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