DM Review welcomes James Taylor as a columnist. James helped create the emerging enterprise decision market and will share his passion about decision management each month.

 

Welcome to the first installment of my new column. As you can see, the column is called smart (enough) business, and each month, I am going to focus on how a particular kind of business could (or an actual business has) become “smart enough.” I thought I would take this opportunity to explain the title a little.

 

Why smart (enough)? Why not just “smart” or “intelligent”? It is hard to make a business, or a system for that matter, “smart” or “intelligent.” It is also not necessary. A business has a specific purpose and very specific targets or goals. Being smart enough to deliver on that purpose to meet those goals is required. Artificial intelligence is not. Smart (enough) systems deliver what is needed to run the business better and aim to complement human skills, not replace people with some kind of machine intelligence. Computers may one day run your business better than you can, but today companies need systems that are more useful, more proactive, more thoughtful and that empower executives to run their business by the numbers.

 

A smart enough business operates around the clock and across all channels. It is open for business as close to 24x7 as makes sense for its customers, in part by using multiple channels (Web, phone, email, kiosk, store) effectively as part of a seamless whole. It doesn’t make its customers wait - by referring them up a management chain or directing them to call a different number - when they need action taken immediately. By integrating its channels, it allows its customers to use whatever channel they want while the business still treats them consistently. It always treats good customers well, no matter what mix of products and services they have bought or what channels they use. It is truly customer-centric, not product or channel-centric. It takes full advantage of what it knows about its customers, its suppliers, its products, the business environment and all of those things that are particular or unique to their business, regarding the effective use of information as a critical competitive weapon. It is able to respond quickly and effectively to changes in its business environment or to opportunities. Last but not least, it acts in a rational, legal and compliant way at all times.

 

Few companies, I suspect, would not want to meet this definition. Almost none do so today, at least not across the board. What we have are pockets of excellence in different companies and different industries. What these pockets of excellence have in common is a focus on decisions. To meet our definition of “smart enough,” a business must take control of its decisions. In particular, it must take control of those decisions that must be made in short time windows or in large volume.

 

To take control of these decisions, a company must make each of these decisions deliberate and explicit so that it can treat customers, suppliers and partners appropriately and profitably. It must treat these decisions and how they are made as a managed corporate asset that is widely leveraged. It must have a way to test and systematically improve these decisions over time to respond to changing markets and customers. Unless these decisions - operational, transactional decisions - are managed in this way, it will be impossible to ensure that they are taken consistently across channels, difficult to measure and improve them, challenging to appropriately automate them and awkward to check them for compliance.

 

What characteristics do smart enough decisions have in this context?

 

  • They are precise. They use the data they have about what is or is not a good decision, about past and future behavior and profitability, about availability and reliability within their environment to make the best decision possible.
  • They are consistent. They do not vary across channels, across customers or across time unless they mean them to. Decisions should change in context, but they should only do so deliberately.
  • They are agile. No decision can remain static and remain optimal. Business conditions change, competitors change, the expectations and behavior of their customers change and the law changes. Decisions must be easy to adapt effectively to respond to these changes.

To be a smart (enough) business a company must make smart (enough) decisions in its day-to-day operations. To meet the volume and time requirements of a modern business, it must automate these decisions. Yet the approaches and technologies used to build its core backbone systems will not suffice for automating and improving decisions. A new approach is required, and new - though proven - technology must be adopted. The companies I will talk about have done this and have the results to prove it.

 

I will be writing a column about smart enough businesses every month. I hope to cover how businesses are changing as they become smart enough, what kinds of systems they are building to become smarter and how they are building them. I hope you will join me.

 

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