There’s a lot of talk today about fact-based decision-making and the need for companies to get on top of it if they’re to maintain a competitive advantage. With business intelligence (BI) technology becoming increasingly affordable, powerful and user-orientated, organisations of all shapes and sizes can now accumulate huge volumes of data that can be used to greatly improve the decision-making process.
However, as so often happens when new milestones of technological sophistication are reached, the reality has fallen short of the hype. Put simply, companies are not making as much use of their data as they could. For many types of organisations, what’s badly needed is cultivation of an internal culture that supports and promotes the conversion of raw information into meaningful action items. In other words, knowledge-to-action.
A knowledge-to-action culture is one where management not only makes the proper investments in performance management solutions, BI software and analytics tools, but also knows how to make the best use of the data gathered by such systems. Knowledge-to-action is also about providing widespread access to information. No longer can companies afford to limit information access to a select few personnel or to one or two key departments. Ultimately, the goal of knowledge-to-action is to improve an organisation’s ability to achieve its broad business goals. By asking the right questions of the data your systems have acquired and by using the insights you gain to continuously make operational changes, the actions you end up taking will have the potential to make a real impact on the bottom line.
So, how do you go about it? What’s actually involved in creating a knowledge-to-action environment? There are four key steps I recommend:
1. Start small. While it’s nice to think that true organisational change can be achieved in one big hit, this simply isn’t realistic. The best approach is to focus on one area of your business at a time. Choose the department where the most important unanswered questions are and which has the biggest potential for improvements.
2. Find out what information you need. Work out who needs to know what, when and why, and what you need to know in order to meet your objectives when it comes to improving that area of the business. Once you’ve determined all that, then go about collecting the required information. Consider what processes you need to put in place to obtain the data you need and to ensuring that the information you acquire is of sufficient quality. Also, determine whether your information systems are equipped to pull out the data you need, integrate it and present it in a consistent, easily-decipherable way. All this is crucial because you have to be able to trust the information that’s being generated. If you can’t trust your data, you won’t be able to trust any decisions that are based on it.
3. Ask and analyse. You want to turn the information you’ve extracted into relevant insights. Be sure to ask plenty of questions of your data, each with an eye to assessing how your newly acquired information may be able to form the bases for business improvements. Also, consider how you present your data. Different people have different ways of looking at things and have different preferences when it comes to assessing new information. If your style of presentation confuses or alienates those you need to inform, you limit your chances of delivering meaningful changes.
4. Measure your progress. You’ve extracted and then analysed your data and have used your new insights to make some evidence-based decisions. Now you need to track, measure and evaluate your results as you move forward. Set specific goals for what you want to achieve and make adjustments as you go along. This step is all about continuous improvement, which can best be achieved through careful monitoring.
To achieve the best results from a transition to a Knowledge-to-Action environment, it’s best to have a solid understanding of the organisational context in which such a change takes place. Specifically I’m referring to an organisation’s people, processes, culture and technology.
People: Questions that are worth asking include: Do the relevant people within the organisation have sufficient skills in information searching and data analysis? Do they have a commitment to the fact-based decision-making cause? Have they been well-educated on, and trained for, changes to come?
Processes: Those within the organisation who are carrying the work of data extraction, presentation and analysis need to be well-supported with processes that have been designed to achieve the best outcomes. Standards of best practice need to be set, monitored and continuously reviewed.
Culture: The culture of an organisation needs to be looked at to discover where resistance to change (and, for that matter, acceptance of change) is likely to be encountered. A business that values information analysis, resulting in organisational change, requires staff that is on board with the program.
Technology: Amongst various other qualities you need in your business systems is scalability. By beginning small (ie with one area of your business) then spreading out over time, you’ll need software systems that can grow as your needs expand. A high level of integration is also important as this will allow for the full automation of data collection, processing and linking. As far as choice of vendor is concerned, be sure to invest only in technology providers that are well-established and stable. It’s always good to have the peace-of-mind that comes from knowing your vendor or reseller will be there for service and support well into the future. And while you’re working alongside your provider, continuously develop in-house capabilities of the type that will enable you to get the most from your IT systems. Without the cultivation of such skills continuous improvement will be stifled.
That’s pretty much the nuts-and-bolts of the knowledge-to-action concept and process. If the steps you take along the way are diligently carried out and aligned with your business strategy, you’ll be well-placed to achieve the results you’re looking for.
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