“Why guess when you can know” was Michael Schumacher’s race engineer’s mantra according to Steve Ingham in his book “How to support a champion.” In elite sport, coaches and scientists have for many years recognised that data is key to gaining the ultimate competitive advantage. In IT we have many opportunities to use data to improve our understanding of the way both our business and indeed our own IT teams are performing, but in reality, I think there is a lot we can learn from elite sport.>Actually, in my opinion, one of the hardest things to do in the IT business – is measuring the performance of your IT teams. Also, this begs the question, how many CIO’s/IT directors “mark their own homework?” If you think about it carefully, it’s not such a great surprise, when IT leaders are appointed to do something the board don’t always really understand – IT! Whilst I have been arguing for a long time that Boards should be more IT savy, the simple fact is that many are not and rely on their IT leaders to make decisions and then blame them when it all goes wrong.
There are many high-profile examples of this over the last few years, but the two which spring to mind include Talk-Talk where they lost millions of customer data and more recently TSB. The independent Slaughter and May report concluded, “There were certain additional common sense challenges that the TSB board did not put to the executive.” The outgoing Chief Executive, Paul Pester went on to say, “Obviously if we had been aware of Sabis’s shortcuts in the testing programme, the TSB board and I would never have pressed ahead with switching to the new system at that time.”
Now of course, with the benefit of hindsight it’s very easy to point fingers and the vast majority of IT infrastructure works very well and there are some outstanding leaders, but in my personal view, there is a lot more that can be done to improve the performance of IT. The challenge as TSB found was that there was too much data with disparate teams not providing the right information at the right time.
A lot of CIO’s that I know will have KPI’s that they have probably agreed with their board, but ultimately it is difficult for a board to know if these are effective as they will need to have a board member themselves who understands IT. Many will argue that is the role of a CIO, but in practice there aren’t that many boards, even in large organisations, that integrate a CIO function at a strategic level. So how is it possible to solve this problem?
Well, they have managed it in marketing and in sport, which I will return to later, but let’s look at marketing which has been transformed by the use of analytics. Most medium to large companies will use performance marketing (also known as digital marketing) to reach customers using the very latest analytical techniques. Marketing is then judged on number of conversions, pay per click (PPC) and has become highly scientific in terms of its own analysis and performance through such platforms as google analytics.
If we look at the IT industry there are hundreds of different tools out there for monitoring and managing different types of infrastructure, applications, servers, networks and devices. almost all of them don’t talk to each other and the individual teams within IT also fiercely defend their “own turf” and indeed will probably have bought their “own tool.” All of this means that when there is a major incident, not only is it very difficult to diagnose where the problem lies, but trying to find who is accountable is almost impossible. Additionally, there is no point in having actionable insight unless it is in context and an individual or team can take action. It’s therefore vital that any system is able to provide just the data which is needed to form a judgement so it can be acted upon in a timely fashion.Forrester reported in a survey as long ago as 2016 that whilst 74% of companies surveyed said that they wanted to be “data driven” only 29% are successful at connecting analytics to action. According to a recent Forbes article, “you should build a strong basis for analytics by collecting data precisely and unifying data from different sources into one database” and this will give you the possibility to gain real “actionable insight.”However, according to Brent Dykes (Actionable insights, the missing link between data and business value) you really need more than this and introduces six key attributes, that make an insight truly actionable and valuable.Dyke states that for insights to be truly meaningful all six of the above need to be considered and implemented. He goes on to say that “if people don’t clearly understand an insight, why it’s important and how it can help them, the insight will be overlooked and forgotten.” There’s not enough space to explore the six components in this blog, but the key thing is to make sure that you can correlate data from different sources, customise the relevant data for your business and then communicate it in the right way.
Listen to Former GB Olympic skier and Sports Personality Chemmy Alcott talk about her experience in analysing performance data in our upcoming webinar.
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Measuring performance improves the team and the outcomes in sport and in business, CIO Community Editor Mark Chillingworth reports on the debate he moderated for Intergence
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