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If You Aren’t Making Data Actionable, You Aren’t Doing It Right

by Brennan Walker, on July 19, 2016

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Today more than ever it seems Fortune 500 and startup companies alike are over-reliant on old, aggregated data to generate static business plans.

Recently, Benjamin Gilad & Magnus Hoppe published “The Right Way to Use Analytics Isn’t for Planning” in the Harvard Business Review, arguing that the best ways to use analytics is “[generating] insights that in turn support ever-changing perspectives.”

The net result of management teams opting for historical, big data instead of real-time, actionable data is catastrophic. HBR cites several prominent examples within the last decade alone that exemplify the shortcomings of such rigid plans in unsuccessful product launches and poor crisis management.  

The focus today shouldn’t be on big data. Rather it should concentrate on providing real time insights into new perspectives, making data practical, targeted, and ultimately actionable.

Data can be immensely valuable in the dynamic, global, 21st century economy.  

However, data is only valuable when it is actionable, and when its insights offered are continually reevaluated throughout their execution.  

While it is important to look at past data and learn from its analysis, there is greater potential in data when it can be used to show decision makers the exact actions they need to be taking and forecast the effect.  

Simply put, it’s making data actionable.  

Data is made actionable through the robust analysis of relevant data and trends, resulting in decision makers having a boundless amount of knowledge readily available.

Not all leaders, however, are quick to subscribe to the unlocked potential of actionable data.  

Bob Nease cautions that data-driven decisions do not come without pitfalls in Fast Company’s “How Too Much Data Can Hurt Our Productivity and Decision Making.”  

Nease claims “we're left with our intuition when deciding what to do in light of all [the] new information. And that means that sometimes we’ll make things worse rather than better.”  

While Nease is accurate in his classification of incidental finding, he fails to recognize the unlocked potential found in analytics used properly, and especially, when analyzed with the right business intelligence tools.  

Actionable intelligence provides a clear course of action supported by data. It’s affording individuals the power to make informed decisions and maximize productivity with forecasted results.  

Once it becomes clear that the conversations in strategy meetings and boardrooms should center on targeted and actionable analytics, the next problem comes with the implementation of such a culture in the workplace.  

Often times there is disconnect between the agencies, intelligence teams, and consultants working on strategy, and managers are forced to play office politics.  

HBR offers four steps to adopting a new business plan: (1) manage talent differently; (2) use competitive intelligence differently; (3) work together; (4) study personal use of intelligence.

In short, these steps should lead to altering a corporation’s culture to become more elastic, adaptable, and open to new ideas, creating a culture that not only encourages innovation, but precipitates it.

Institutional barriers must be abandoned for open collaboration between decision-making leaders and intelligence analysts. Actionable data is only as action-oriented as the company that must harness it.  

If a corporate culture is one that ignores the new insights offered, then there is no benefit or ROI associated with actionable data.

Big data is useless until it is properly analyzed and becomes actionable. Having big data leaves decision makers ultimately making a good or poor choice based on the past, ignoring present market conditions, competitive intelligence, and trends.  

Moreover, the data is often used for the creation of static business plans and rigid strategies, leaving little room for adaptation. Harvard Business Review concluded that data and analytics shouldn’t be about “making hindsight 20-20.” In reality, it should be about making insight and foresight 20-20.  

Knowing what actions a company should take and having the propensity to take those actions results in an unbelievably strong ROI. It equips us all with the ability to optimize an entire go-to-market strategy, from research and development to sales and marketing.  

It is absolutely imperative that companies and their data reflect the dynamic market today and become actionable. If not, those companies will be wondering why they became irrelevant.

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