The Million Euro question

August 25, 2009
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There is something that we call the “Million Euro” question. This is a question that, once it’s answered, will save your company a million Euros. The point is that it’s a question that has never been asked before, because either the answer was thought to be impossible or too difficult to get, or because you would only get to the point of asking the big question in a thought process that involves several small questions that, again, were originally thought to be impossible to answer.

Now you may be cynical about this concept – how can one question save a million Euros? But in my career in Teradata, I have personally witnessed a number of these questions and heard of many others. In fact, it often takes little more than a simple SQL query to answer them.

This usually happens in companies that have integrated their data into a central data warehouse and made it available to business users to ask the questions that have always been bugging them. Questions like these: how come we pay royalties on in-flight movies when the aircraft AV system was not working? Why are we covering repairs under warranty when we can prove that the item is past the warranty period? Why are we

There is something that we call the “Million Euro” question. This is a question that, once it’s answered, will save your company a million Euros. The point is that it’s a question that has never been asked before, because either the answer was thought to be impossible or too difficult to get, or because you would only get to the point of asking the big question in a thought process that involves several small questions that, again, were originally thought to be impossible to answer.

Now you may be cynical about this concept – how can one question save a million Euros? But in my career in Teradata, I have personally witnessed a number of these questions and heard of many others. In fact, it often takes little more than a simple SQL query to answer them.

This usually happens in companies that have integrated their data into a central data warehouse and made it available to business users to ask the questions that have always been bugging them. Questions like these: how come we pay royalties on in-flight movies when the aircraft AV system was not working? Why are we covering repairs under warranty when we can prove that the item is past the warranty period? Why are we recalling all products when we know exactly which products in the field have the defective part?

What about this tricky idea for network operators whose network is overloaded at peak times because people use it to send “codes” home (1 ring = home in 10 minutes, 2 rings = home in 20 minutes): If we provide 5 types of free text messages (saying “home in 10 minutes”, “delayed in office” etc.), will this free up enough capacity to avoid capital investment and increase our revenue?

My thought for the day
When you have hired new colleagues, take them aside after a couple of weeks and ask them what is bugging them. The trick is to ensure that they have been in the company long enough so that they have some insight but not so long that they are already frustrated. Then figure out why these bright people do not have access to the data or information necessary to answer their questions themselves – and fix it. As the famous saying goes, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Now spend 10 minutes after reading this thinking back to when you were new in your company and had all those great ideas on how things needed to change. What was your million Euro question?

 

Niall O’Doherty