Did you know that most organizations (not just associations) still make decisions primarily based on instinct, politics or tradition? But according to Harvard Business Review, top performing organizations are 5x more likely to use data to make decisions. If we know that decisions based on data tend to be better decisions, why don’t we use data all the time? Take a minute to think about where your organization falls on this decision making continuum.


Why Don’t We Use Data?

Research conducted by MIT shows that only 15-20% of organizations believe they have access to the data they need in order to make good decisions. Why is this? I believe one reason is the historical separation of the business users from IT. The way it typically works is you have a question and ask IT to create a query or report and then when they deliver it, usually you have another question, or want another piece of data or have it grouped a different way. Traditionally this change request has been considered a BAD thing! And then you have to wait for IT to revise it. This process doesn’t really work well for either IT or the association business user.   There are a host of other reasons, too, including:

  • Not knowing where the data is
  • Not trusting the data (data quality issues)
  • Not sure how to get started (right questions to ask)
  • Lack of data governance (who is responsible)
  • Lack of tools and/or training
  • Perception that it is expensive and difficult
  • Competing priorities

Visual Data Discovery

Association business users want access to their data! They don’t know their questions until they start to see the data. This is why we believe the field of visual data discovery is so important – it enables business users to quickly understand their data, and then to have a conversation with their data.  When data is presented visually to a business user who has been trained in data discovery, they don’t need IT to interpret it for them and they can ask new and ever better questions directly of the data.

Critical Success Factors for Visual Data Discovery

  • Engagements should be performed in phases:
    • Industry best practice is to start small, look for “quick wins” that will help ensure you have organizational support
    • Allows all parties to focus, gain momentum
    • See tangible results from one phase before starting on another
  • Staff Time:
    • Training should be provided throughout an engagement, covering:
      • the business benefits of BI
      • how to interact with the dashboards
      • technical knowledge transfer
      • analytical reasoning skills
    • Staff will develop goals, identify success factors, identify existing relevant reports, and discuss business processes
    • The majority of staff time will occur during the beginning and ending steps of the phase
  • Data inconsistencies or differences in how differences in calculations will be revealed in the course of an engagement:
    • Open, honest communication is encouraged and important – we recommend declaring “amnesty” for anything that happened the past

Using data to make decisions reduces the risk of making a bad decision because there is less reliance on instinct, politics or history.  Decisions can be made with more confidence and your reasoning is easy to explain when supported by data and business users can understand data faster and make decisions in less time when visual data discovery techniques are used.