Where is the “fix my business” button?

I’m a business guy – I own and run a small, growing business and empathise (or is that sympathise) with other businesspeople charged with managing, directing and shaping the businesses that they run. So I’m very comfortable meeting and discussing high-level commercial requirements with other businesspeople – I’m used to requests like:

We need an overall estimate on the value of the changes you’re recommending – just a rough idea – how much will we save?


Your proposal sounds good, but what will it be worth to us if we implement it exactly as you describe?

or even

How can we improve [revenue / market share / loyalty etc.], but avoid damaging [margin / brand / loyalty etc.]?

and so on.

It’s entirely reasonable that senior executives (especially in large companies) should operate at a high-level, abstracted from the detail and operating with a “broad brush” approach. They need estimates of future value in order to make informed decisions; indeed, much of the work that we do at Atheon focuses on helping  senior decision-makers to make informed decisions. That’s what effective data animation achieves.

There is, however, a requirement to think. No advisor, expert or – dare I say it – consultant is able to work in a vacuum and prescribe generic solutions to specific problems. Well, it can be done of course – but those who choose to operate that way are largely responsible for the reason that “consultant” is a business c-word.

So when a senior executive of a client recently asked,

Can we just have a button which shows us what to do?

it was hard to know what to say. I wish I could report on the presence of mind and chutzpah to respond with

Yes… and the button says “you’re fired”

but I didn’t. I just stood there, slightly aghast, wondering how to answer with a straight face. It took a while, and I can’t remember what I said – I was still reeling from the question.

Now I know that computers are perceived as “clever”, and that we hawkers of technology may be guilty of over-promoting their capabilities, but I promise I have never claimed that I have a software system that knows how to run a business. Generically. Without being configured to parameters discussed, agreed and verified by the client.

Has “Big Data” become associated with artificial intelligence? Do businesspeople now believe that predictive analytics can truly foresee the future, in all its myriad possibilities, and not only advise but actually instruct?

Sure, I know that I could pick a few random KPIs, measure against ‘best-practice’ values and then list a sequence of products to cut, offices to close or people to fire… but I cling to the concept of the rational being; humans able to think for themselves, based on a sound understanding of business performance – as measured through the data that they collect, presented in an attractive, intuitive, interactive manner.

I guess I’m just a little old-fashioned.


One response to “Where is the “fix my business” button?

  1. Pingback: In praise of *unactionable* insight | The Data Animators·

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