The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on September 26, 2009 that “despite more than a decade of effort and millions of dollars, Georgia’s system for tracking the progress of public school students remains deeply flawed.” The article describes a very tortured and wasteful process that has yet to yield any meaningful analysis or change in Georgia’s public schools. Georgia’s experience contains many lessons applicable to any business that can use data analysis to improve business performance:
- Maintain consistent leadership over projects implementing tools for data analysis. It is all too easy to continue to rely on the gut instincts and subjective assessments of the past. Strong leadership is required to break down old habits, evangelize the benefits of sustainable, data-driven approaches to running the business, and even challenge special interests who do not want mistakes revealed by evidence and facts.
- Do not leave staff to wallow in the misery of collecting and managing data. Their time and effort is very valuable, and it is better spent analyzing the data and developing recommendations from it.
- Build analytic systems that track changes over time and place. This is the only way to monitor performance and to develop benchmarks that serve as the basis for improvement.
- Integrate systems across groups and divisions as much as possible. This leverages effort and creates larger potential for creating strategies that are optimal for the entire business and not just specific entities.
- Carefully assess the make vs buy decision. If the company lacks the skills and/or the will to see an implementation through to its successful conclusion, then hire a firm that demonstrates those capabilities AND can train staff to maintain and use the system for the foreseeable future. Make honest assessments about whether or not the company truly has the resources to hire the correct staff and buy the correct hardware for making an analytic system work. Understanding the return-on-investment (ROI) of making data-driven decisions will help focus make vs buy decisions.
Follow these steps, and your business will be well on its way to executing data-driven strategies for improving business performance.