I think I first used that phrase back in the DotCom days (yes, I go back that far), when a colleague of mine asked me for some data. I just finished completing the build of a data warehouse and business intelligence system and the data was starting to flow around the organisation. At the time I had a data savvy CEO who was in the W. Edwards Deming school of thinking “In God we trust. All others must bring data”. As a result people were generally keen to get their hands on the data to save themselves a bit of a roasting at the weekly management meeting. Consequently, I was getting pretty busy and unwittingly I started to use this phrase as a way of prioritising my work.

However, it’s stood me in good stead over the years both as a way of shaping requirements and solutions but also when I was developing and coaching analytics teams because I used the question to remind them that their focus should be on the decision that the person needs to make, rather than on the data that they think they need. In other words, figure out “what’s the question behind the question?” It’s something that always needs to be kept top of mind.

Data Driven or Decision Led?

It’s vogue these days to say you’re data driven, but to what purpose? Instead of being data driven shouldn’t we be decision led? What’s the decision that we’re trying to make and what action will be taken as a result of that decision? What are the outcomes likely to be? That’s where the value of data for the organisation is.

I learnt that to my bitter cost a few years back when in the original incarnation of Applied Insights (the clue is in the title) we had just completed a sophisticated customer segmentation project for multi-channel retailer. We got paid a reasonable amount of money for the work and it was one of those projects where we put our heart and soul into it as we thought it was going to drive some real value for them. To our horror though, when we started to talk about implementation, we discovered that the email marketing system they had at the time couldn’t cope with taking the inputs from the segmentation to deliver more personalised messaging. So, the segmentation became a pretty PowerPoint deck that sat on the shelf and the project was effectively a waste of time and their money.

That experience was a seminal one. It reinforced to me that insights without subsequent actions are of no value. So, are you data driven or are you decision led? What’s the difference?

From BI to DI – Decision Intelligence

To my mind, being just data driven only considers the rational view of the world and neglects other aspects of decision making. It focuses on the data rather than on the outcomes, it’s machine orientated rather than human centric.

The best decisions are not necessarily those which are purely data driven, Data should play a large part in any decision-making process but it shouldn’t be the only element. By and large most important decisions in organisations are still made by humans not by machines, so the human factor needs to be taken into account in terms of how those decisions are made. This is something which requires a shift from Business Intelligence to Decision Intelligence where analytics, data science, machine learning and the rest are deployed in the context of how decisions are actually made.

More of that anon.