Three Points on Small Data and Data-Driven Decisions

March 29, 2012
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This week business analytics guru Tom Davenport (author of Analytics at Work, 2010, and Competing on Analytics, 2007) published an article on the Harvard Business Review blog titled, “

This week business analytics guru Tom Davenport (author of Analytics at Work, 2010, and Competing on Analytics, 2007) published an article on the Harvard Business Review blog titled, “Even Small Data Can Improve Your Organization’s Judgment.” In this post he makes three points, all highly relevant to Business Discovery.

    • “You don’t need a lot of data to be more successful.” Right on. The hype around Big Data is masking an important reality; the business value of data is in people having access to the right data at the right time. (See related blog post, “The Last-Mile Challenge of Big Data.”) Important questions related to Big Data are: How do you deliver data services to the people who need them? How do you give business users an excellent experience that will keep them coming back for more? How do you enable them to explore the data on their own and in groups to discover insights? To make discoveries that help them innovate? How do you help them simplify decision making, and turn decisions into action? The answer isn’t “give then more data.” It is “give them relevant data and provide them with excellent self-service capabilities.”
    • “You don’t necessarily have to do all the analysis yourself.” In one sense this is a great point, and I agree wholeheartedly. New data services are popping up every day on the web to bring together data from multiple sources (e.g., social media sites, government data, industry data, manufacturers’ channels, etc.) and make it available to customers. This information collection takes some of the burden off the people who have business questions. But another take on Davenport’s position is that in today’s world — where business users have access to tools they can use to easily explore data, make discoveries, and derive insights — performing analysis is no longer a bummer; it’s no longer an obligation, a “have to.” Exploring data using analytic apps is now a pleasure, and putting this capability directly in the hands of the people who have questions is empowering. And that’s where we come to Davenport’s third point.
    • “You can benefit from data-based decision making at the smallest level of the organization.” Truer words have never been spoken. Many kinds of decisions can be supported with data: operational, tactical, and strategic. It’s easier than ever before for decision makers at all levels of an organization to explore and analyze data and make data-driven decisions. What’s enabling this is the consumerization of IT — or, more accurately put, the “IT-ization of the consumer.” (See the related blog posts, “Empowered People Want to Make Stuff,” “Data Discovery Tools are Pitch-Perfect for Pro-Ams,” and “A Big Part of Consumerization Is ‘I Want to Make It Myself.’”)

Tom Davenport’s new book is called Judgment Calls: Twelve Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams that Got Them Right. It’s on my reading list; I see a book write-up in the future!

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