Friday, November 25, 2005

The Bitter Irony of Decision Making

The Pan-American Exposition of 1900 produced two events of lasting significance. First, came the assassination of a president. On September 6, following a speech at the Temple of Music, President William McKinley was shot twice by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. The president was carried to a house across the street. The doctors could not determine the location of bullets lodged in the president’s body, and without that knowledge they refused to operate. The bullets remained, the wounds became septic and McKinley died 10 days later from the infection.

The other event of note occurred right next door, in the Pavilion of Science. It was the demonstration of the first working x-ray machine. In her memoirs, Ida McKinley wrote not of the death of a president, but of the loss of a husband and father. She noted the bitter irony that technology that could have provided the information to save her husband’s life sat 200 feet away, but was never used.

Our use of knowledge to impact decisions is a similar bitter irony. No other industry has spent more to gather customer information. We have built impressive data warehouses. Yet, we still have not mastered using this data to make better management decisions. Marketing is complex with its proliferation of products and channels that change seemingly overnight. When we act without good information, the result is usually wrong.

Is there an x-ray machine sitting nearby as you elevate best practices for leveraging technology?

Getting information systems right is hard work. There are no silver bullets, but there are processes and technologies that are making the task easier.

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