The Data War Room

March 2, 2012
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The 1993 documentary The War Room tells the story of the 1992 US presidential campaign from a behind-the-scenes’ perspective. The film shows first-hand how Bill Clinton’s campaign team responded to different crises, including allegations of marital infidelity. While a bit dated today, it’s nonetheless a fascinating look into “rapid response” politics just when technology was starting to change traditional political media.

The 1993 documentary The War Room tells the story of the 1992 US presidential campaign from a behind-the-scenes’ perspective. The film shows first-hand how Bill Clinton’s campaign team responded to different crises, including allegations of marital infidelity. While a bit dated today, it’s nonetheless a fascinating look into “rapid response” politics just when technology was starting to change traditional political media.

Today, we’re starting to see organizations set up their own data war rooms for essentially the same reasons: to respond to different crises and opportunities. Information Week editor Chris Murphy writes about one such company in “Why P&G CIO Is Quadrupling Analytics Expertise”:

[Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo] Passerini is investing in analytics expertise because the model for using data to run a company is changing. The old IT model was to figure out which reports people wanted, capture the data, and deliver it to the key people weeks or days after the fact. “That model is an obsolete model,” he says.

Murphy hits the nail on the head in this article. Now, let’s delve a bit depper into the need for a new model.

The Need for a New Model

There are at least three factors driving the need for a new information management (IM) model in many organizations. First, let’s look at IT track records. How many organizations invested heavily in the late 1990s and early 2000s on expensive, on-premise ERP, CRM, and BI applications–only to have these investments ultimately disappoint the vast majority of stakeholders? Now, on-premise isn’t the only option. Big Data and cloud computing are gaining traction in many organizations.

Next up: time to respond. Beyond the poor track record of many traditional IT investments, we live in different times relative to even ten years ago. Things happen so much faster today. Why? The usual supects are the explosion of mobility, broadband, tablets, and social media. Ten years ago, the old, reactive requirement-driven IM model might have made sense. Today, however, that model becoming increasingly difficult to justify. For instance, a social media mention might cause a run on products. By the time that proper requirements have been gathered, a crisis has probably exacerbated. An opportunity has probably been squandered.

Third, data analysis and manipulation tools have become much more user-friendly. Long gone are the days in which people needed a computer science or programming background to play with data. Of course, data modeling, data warehousing, and other heavy lifting necessitate more technical skills and backgrounds. But the business layperson, equipped with the right tools and a modicum of training, can easily investigate and drill down on issues related to employees, consumers, sales, and the like.

Against this new backdrop, which of the following makes more sense?

  • IT analysts spending the next six weeks or months interacting with users and building reports?
  • Skilled users creating their own reports, creating and interpreting their own analytics, and making business decisions with minimal IT involvement (aka, self service)?

Simon Says

Building a data war room is no elixir. You still have to employ people with the skills to manage your organizations data–and hold people accountable for their decisions. Further, rapid response means making decisions without all of the pertinent information. If your organization crucifies those who make logical leaps of faith (but ultimately turn out to be “wrong” in their interpretation of the data), it’s unlikely that this new model will take hold.

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