Shari would like to thank Dan Fisher for his contribution to this month's column.

When infants are born, they have very little control or understanding of the world around them. One of their first challenges is recognizing and sorting data received through their sensory organs. As infants grow, they begin to ask questions, process information, analyze answers and hypothesize situations to understand the world around them and take action accordingly. This is insight. We begin developing insight before we are even consciously aware of it!

Businesses use the same process to gain insight into how they can capture new markets; reach new customers and strengthen existing relationships; release new products; retain top employees; and do much more. To gain business insight, however, you must have a comprehensive picture of your business so that you can determine the best course of action.

The path to business insight follows a specific process:

  1. Integrate data from disparate internal and external data sources.
  2. Apply analysis tools and techniques to understand the information within the data.
  3. Make decisions and take actions based on this gained insight.

Integrating

It is not enough to have data somewhere in your organization. You must be able to retrieve that data quickly and merge it with other internal and external data sources such as partners, vendors and data merchants. At Accenture, we help our clients determine the required characteristics for the tools and architectures that integrate this information. Some factors to consider are the breadth of data integration requirements; the applications needed to benchmark extract, transform and load (ETL), enterprise application interface (EAI) and custom solution options; scalability; and timing.

The challenges of data integration do not end with the right toolkit. Making business information meaningful also requires data stewardship. Data stewardship ensures a consistent definition and standardized use of data across an organization. For example, a client who had gone through several mergers and acquisitions found its sales regions disputing reported sales figures. The investigating data integration team discovered that the predecessor companies had booked sales at varying sales life cycle points. Accenture teamed with the client to resolve the problem by creating data stewardship and organizational oversight committees to develop standard data definitions and operating procedures across the organization.

Understanding

Next, you must make data available to diverse users in a format that allows them to ask the right questions and then determine, understand and use the answers. There are many tools available such as Web-based dashboards, wireless text messages, canned reports, OLAP, ad hoc queries and even data mining – which can enable data usage and information generation.

Our new clients are often frustrated that their organization has spent lots of time and effort integrating data and they still can't get answers. This is usually because they are not using a tool that is designed to answer specific questions. One client couldn't understand why his offshore campaign analytic team complained about the tediousness of creating meaningful targeted campaigns using a new customer insight data warehouse. After a capability review, the client discovered that the team was using a tool with rudimentary statistical capabilities. A committee had purchased a generic reporting suite that did not meet most user group needs. We instituted a segmented reporting architecture to provide targeted tools to different classes of user groups.

In spite of vendor claims, one tool rarely supports all of an organization's data analysis needs. By using a simple model, Accenture works with clients to help them identify their needs and choose tools that best fill those needs within the given environment. We begin by grouping business users into categories based on their analysis activities – such as statistical analysis/data mining, ad hoc queries, OLAP, canned reports and Web-based dashboards – and then define the functional needs of each group. This step simplifies evaluating and selecting a tool.

Acting

When armed with facts, an organization can confidently take action. Insight can be the difference between competitive advantage and missed opportunities. Several years ago, the lead executive for a large marketing department was under enormous pressure to simultaneously lower campaign costs and increase customers. Our predictive analytical model had just been developed from their new insight capability. After seeing its results, the executive decided to launch a campaign with half the usual target audience size. The results were phenomenal. Acquisition rates almost doubled while costs were cut in half.

The executive explained that it was within everyone's capability to do great things, but using knowledge and understanding gives both individuals and organizations the advantage. She said that insight was the critical differentiator for success.

It is important to remember, however, that the translation of data into information still requires thought! Information users are only as good as their understanding of the business, the industry in which the business operates and the ability to analyze and act upon data. The extra challenge is teaching users the right questions to ask!

Insight keeps an organization from looking at options in a vacuum. Looking at the facts from a big picture perspective – customer profile to competitive market – helps you understand the effect of your actions and how they are affected. Integrating, understanding and acting on information from various perspectives stretches insight into 360° insight!

In next month's column, we examine the customer to understand how an integrated customer view adds to 360° insight.

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