Your Reading List & recommendations

Time to get your data together

David Cornwell, Head of Solutions at O2, discusses the importance of data in decision making in business.

While AI is starting to become commonplace in applications involving consumer interactions with machines or companies, AI as a decision making engine is still rare.  We know the change will come, but unless organisations start getting their data together now, they’ll lose the race.

Some time ago, Kelvin Prescott shared a quote with me from W. Edwards Deming:

85% of the reasons for failure are deficiencies in the systems and process rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.”

It provided all the encouragement I needed to focus even more on getting the machine working more efficiently. But making decisions on strategic or tactical priorities and knowing whether these decisions are having the desired effect, requires measurement. And measurement requires data.

How exactly do you go about collecting data in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world of presales solutions?  We can measure whether we win a deal or not, but this is just one piece of information. It’s doesn’t really constitute data. We’d want to measure whether the solution is deliverable, profitable, and is what the customer really needs. What will it allow us to upsell in the future? How long did it take to design? How much better, faster, more profitable could we have been? Now we’re talking. We’re starting to gather data.

I know what you’re thinking. Nobody has this level of detail. So how do we make decisions without absolutes?

The answer almost always involves the people in the middle. I, my management team and millions of other professionals. I rarely have all the data I need to make a decision. But I use my experience, I estimate, I make judgement calls, I develop opinions, I guess.  But almost invariably I am making that decision to improve a system or process – and thanks to Kelvin, I know how important this is.

What is I were a machine? Without data, a machine struggles to act.  The paradox is that the human is both fundamentally important, yet simultaneously is the limiting factor.

I am certain that in the future, businesses will use machines to make decisions every day, and the companies who are able to make fast, machine-led decisions in these VUCA environments will inevitably have an advantage.  But the ones who get there fastest are the ones who have the data ready to go.

So what now? My own priority is not just about improving processes and systems, but about improving the data related to those processes and systems. I’ve gone a bit ‘meta’.  But it will make my decisions more informed, which should make the processes and systems I work on faster and more effective.

Eventually, the machines will make me redundant. But that’s a challenge for another day.

Are you investing to make data available to your decision makers? If not, then others will be. And they will probably win. Remember this other quote from our friend W. Edwards Deming:

“Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.”

 Connect with me via LinkedIn, I’d love to hear your opinions.

Share your thoughts using #O2Opinions.


All articles


Public sector

Safe & secure


Tech advice

Work smarter