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Challenge or Opportunity: Take Control


First SAS Global Forum Executive Conference session with Jim Davis, CMO of SAS, talking about fact-based decisioning.

A good crisis is a terrible thing to waste

Jim asked the audience if they took the opportunity of the recent crisis to re-tool their business, to re-assess how to run the business. One of the key ways to do this, of course, is to take more advantage of the data a company has by adopting analytics. SAS, and I would agree, see more senior involvement in analytics.

Peter Drucker used to say that executive leadership had to focus on three time horizons:

  1. Make the present business effective
  2. Identify and realize the potential of the business
  3. Make the present business into a different business for a different future

Of course I like to add his quote about operational decisions:

Most discussions of decision making assume that only senior executives make decisions or that only senior executives’ decisions matter. This is a dangerous mistake

And this, of course, impacts how executives focus on these three dimensions.

Jim went on to say that companies must also be able to innovate and optimize at the same time – take risks and disrupt the current business to innovate but also do this cost-effectively, optimally running core processes. Jim and SAS see their business analytics framework as critical to this. The framework has:

  • Data Integration
    Big part of SAS’s  business and up to 50% of each project. I would add that data integration is best done with a specific decision in mind and I would agree it is critical.
  • Analytics
    Of course this is a term that lots of people use differently and Jim repeated his 8 levels of analytics. I like the definition “Analytics simplify data to amplify its meaning” and this seems to cover everything! Jim made the point that focusing on proactive decision-making is important, not just reactive decision making. I would go further and say that focusing on decision making (and knowing which decisions you are making) is important as too many companies just do reporting without thinking about what decisions they are trying to influence.
  • Reporting
    Don’t like the fact that Jim implies that reporting is how you access analytics. What about the analytics that need to be invisible inside applications and processes? What about the use of analytics to directly drive better automated decisions.
  • Business Solutions
    Jim is right on this one – people find it much easier to adopt analytics and decisioning when it is focused on a specific business problem (decision).

Some great questions to ask to get started with analytics from Jim (along with some comments from me):

  1. Where should we leverage business analytics
    I would say what decisions do we want to improve. Jim reminded folks to focus on the business’ core and its current pain points.
  2. Why now
  3. What’s the payoff
    And make sure to map it to KPIs/metrics not just the ROI. And, as Jim said, make sure to keep the scope small and focused to show a quick return
  4. What information and technology do we use
    Where is the information you need? I would add to remember to start with the end (decision) in mind don’t just manage the data you happen to have
  5. What kind of people
    Make sure everyone is willing to go to fact-based decision, reward and promote those kinds of people, keep educating them
  6. What’s the role of senior folks
    Must have senior executive support ongoing because there is a big culture shift, organizational change

Begin, I would remind you, with the decision in mind and stay focused. Good list of questions.


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