Data-driven decisions in uncertain times

making a data-driven decision

It’s an understandable human contradiction that in moments of crisis — when we most need to act in a reasoned and rational manner — we are instead sometimes reactive or impulsive. In uncertain times like we are currently experiencing, short-term thinking might appear to solve problems quickly, but ultimately can be problematic. The best actions and outcomes are the result of data-driven decision making — always, but particularly in a time like this. 

Business leaders are tasked with making difficult choices daily — sometimes hourly, especially in these unsettling times. Some may need to scale back plans in one area and ramp-up in others; some may have to get creative to reach customers in new ways; a few must come to understand that when they reach specific milestones they have to pivot or shut down altogether. From medical organizations to the grocery supply chain, every enterprise is finding new ways to operate, often remotely and through digital channels. Making these business shifts swiftly, and understanding the impact changes will have on a business’ bottom line, is of utmost importance. 

But it’s not all bad. Some changes will positively impact businesses, like embracing the notion of a remote workforce and cutting costs associated with the traditional offices. Online collaboration and conferencing tools will become embedded in capital expenditures. Routine best practices, commuting habits and hiring boundaries will undergo major changes to ensure organizations hire and retain the best employees.

Leaders understand that the decisions made now, under pressure and through stress, will have long-lasting effects. Having accurate and trusted data at hand during these deliberations is an invaluable tool. The best analytics draw from multiple data sources, build on existing context and evaluate future opportunities and threats to guide intelligent actions. 

In a bright environment, the benefits of data-driven decision making are undeniable; in uncertain times like these, they’re invaluable. Data helps us find the best options, not the most expedient. We call this evolved state of business Data Intelligence because rather than restricting data access to a few, it allows all authorized business professionals across the ecosystem to uncover and extract the strategic value hidden within organizational boundaries. The best decisions come from connecting the right data, insights, algorithms and people to allow all users to overcome current challenges and drive innovation. It gives everyone the power to use data to solve problems, implement ideas and enhance operations. 

Steps to make data-driven decisions

Forward-motion must be strategic as well as speedy. Here are some tips that may help you rethink your approach. 

  • Facilitate collaboration: The core premise of Data Intelligence is that data doesn’t belong to any single constituency, and in this environment, it’s more important than ever to consult, cooperate and collaborate. It’s entirely possible that priorities overlap or even conflict. The finance department is looking at shifting revenue targets, the compliance group knows that mandates can’t be quarantined and IT is just trying to keep up and running smoothly. Data can and should be the unifier. If all relevant parties offer inputs to each course of action, the eventual decisions will get the most support.
  • Made to measure: Incoming data is often random, but analysis that guides business initiatives must be the opposite. Even if sheer “keep the lights on” is the current priority, it’s important to develop metrics for each initiative and measure the success of actions taken. For the data to be credible, it must be validated and measured; only then can it support optimal analysis. It’s difficult but handled correctly, the stay afloat strategies of today could be new revenue sources in the future.
  • Foster a data culture: Data doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it tangibly affects individual tasks and group functions. More to the point, Data Intelligence requires good technology, but it’s also a people and process issue. Therefore, while some current initiatives may seem like a one-off — unlikely moves to overcome unique challenges — envision a long-term, data-driven orientation where people are empowered to find the right data, build on it and collaborate with it.  And they do it every day, companywide.
  • Drive data literacy: Gartner defines data literacy as “the ability to read, write, and communicate data in context.” Promoting a true understanding of data propels your organization to make better, faster decisions. There is less time spent figuring out what the data is saying and more time spent using the data to make decisions. Creating a data literate organization won’t happen overnight, work with company leaders to make this a priority for all employees to ease into the development of a data-driven culture.
  • Manage the change: Some of the measures being implemented now reflect meeting and overcoming today’s challenges more than a long-term strategy. That’s entirely understandable — but it’s not reason enough to allow all short-term tactics to take hold. At the same time, simply trying to bring back old practices in the future may not work either. Let optimal data analysis measure and guide ongoing initiatives, and when this crisis passes, use quantifiable metrics to decide what stays, what goes and what gets adapted. 

In these troubled times, there are no easy answers. But data-driven decisions can help make the hard ones a little easier and can make the company stronger in the long term. Remember that in times like this, business leaders who trust their data can feel confident that the decisions they make are guided by the best information.