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Can Performance Management Software Out Perform Humans at Multitasking?

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Science is proving that people overestimate how well they can multitask - doing or thinking about multiple things at the same time. People are actually fairly poor at it. Can an enterprise performance management framework accomplish what the human brain cannot? In other words, can the portfolio of integrated methodologies that comprise the performance management framework behave like bees of a beehive or ants of an anthill, where each of the workers seems to instantaneously know what he or she should be doing for the good of the group?

 

A recent National Public Radio (NPR) piece described research by neuroscientists that showed that humans are not very good at doing multiple things. The research concluded that people are not very good at doing things simultaneously, such as answering emails while talking on the phone. Tasks compete to use the same part of the brain, and attempts to do two or more tasks produce interference. Using brain scan technology, scientists can observe the brain struggling when multitasking is attempted.1

 

What is the Value of Multitasking for Performance Management?

 

In the context of performance management, doing simultaneous things in near real time is becoming more critical, and it requires speed and accuracy. For example, say a bank customer phones a call center just moments after they purchase a service, but the call center representative has old data that includes an automated rule-based offering. The customer service representative may propose the same service or, worse yet, a different one, leading to confusion and frustration for the customer.

 

A mature performance management framework involves rapid analysis and decision-making between multiple business methodologies. There are many things occurring all at once. For example, the executive team may be reacting to external events and consequently adjusting their strategic objectives. Ideally, such changes should be quickly communicated to managers and employee teams using strategy map software. In turn, these adjustments will require new programs and initiatives, as well as possibly abandoning or postponing existing ones. As a result, new key performance indicators (KPIs) and their target measures will be required in order to monitor how well the strategies are being executed.

 

What might trigger a change in the executive team’s strategy? It may come from feedback that a specific customer microsegment has altered its behavior, which would be detected from an unexpected deviation or variance from an activity-based, principled customer profitability reporting system.

 

Meanwhile one of the mission-critical core processes, like customer order handling, may begin to exhibit degradation in service levels. Such erosion would be identified by the balanced scorecard or dashboard system, which would send an alert message that requires a response from process owners.

 

What might be the impact of the corrective actions that are taken by the process owners? In most organizations, there are trade-offs. Conflict, tension and capacity constraints naturally exist in any organization. An effective performance management framework includes advanced analytics, especially predictive analytics, which produce what-if scenarios of the various effects of changes and decisions.

 

And, what if some of the corrective action changes have a significant impact on spending that materially affects revenue and spending variances from the annual budget? These impacts may need to be reflected by rolling financial forecasts that are approved by the executive team. Predictably, resource decisions (such as workforce planning) may need to be made to hire, shift or downsize the workforce.

 

In an organization, everything is connected. In nature, ants and bees are equipped to quickly react to changes in their environment, even though each type of ant or bee only has a specific skill. Doesn’t a mature performance management framework operate in a similar way?

 

The Brain’s Executive System Distinguishes Humans from Other Species

 

The neurologist’s research reported by NPR explained that although humans cannot multitask, people can switch attention from task to task very quickly. Neurologists call the part of the brain that that does this the “executive system,” and it resides in our brain’s frontal lobes, mainly relying on our eyes and ears. These executive processes allow people to make plans for future behaviors and achieve goals by ignoring distractions. These capabilities evolved to help our human ancestors - who were physically vulnerable - hunt animals that were bigger and stronger.2

 

In a performance management framework, one can make the case that it is the integration of multiple business methodologies embedded with analytics of all types that are those frontal lobes - the executive system. Just as the brain contains lots of memory, organizations store gigantic amounts of data. Until recently, unlocking the intelligence trapped in all that data has been a relatively difficult task to effectively accomplish. A performance management framework serves as a value multiplier for the organizations that have made a substantial investment in their transactional software systems and technology (e.g., enterprise resource planning [ERP] systems), but are often viewed as falling short of their expected returns on their investment.

 

Fortunately, innovation in data storage technology is now significantly outpacing progress in computer processing power - heralding a new era where creating vast pools of digital data is becoming the preferred solution. As a result, there are now superior software tools that offer a complete suite of analytic applications and data models that enable organizations to tap into the virtual treasure trove of information they already possess and enable effective, large-scale performance management that is enterprise-wide in scope. Performance management is the integration of these technologies and methodologies. The performance management solutions suite provides the mechanism to bridge the business intelligence (BI) gap between the executive team’s and the employees’ actions.

 

People may not be able to multitask, but organizations can when they are equipped with BI technology complemented by integrated performance management software.

 

References:

 

  1. Jon Hamilton. “Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again.” National Public Radio, October 2, 2008.
  2. Hamilton.

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