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Do not underestimate the need for automation in decision making

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Tom Davenport wrote a nice piece last year that recently showed up on my radar – 10 Principles of the New Business Intelligence – on HarvardBusiness.org. His first principle was particularly good:

Decisions are the unit of work to which BI initiatives should be applied.

Whether you are just looking to make your reporting and dashboards more useful or to add data mining and predictive analytics, this is always a good idea. Decisions first, everything else (data quality, data integration, timeliness, degree of automation, balance of rules and analytics ….) secondary.

In the comments there were a number of people basically worrying about automated decision making and stressing how much better manual decision making, properly assisted, would be. While I emphathize with people who think this way I have two things to say:

  1. Think about the number of completely automated processes and systems with which you, your customers and your suppliers interact. For these, only automation will do.
  2. Read Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart – a book full of real examples comparing the results of applying algorithms with the results of human decision makers. Here’s a clue, we don’t do so good….
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