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James Taylor

I will use this blog to discuss business challenges and how technologies like analytics, optimization and business rules can meet those challenges.

About the author >

James is the CEO of Decision Management Solutions and works with clients to automate and improve the decisions underpinning their business. James is the leading expert in decision management and a passionate advocate of decisioning technologies business rules, predictive analytics and data mining. James helps companies develop smarter and more agile processes and systems and has more than 20 years of experience developing software and solutions for clients. He has led decision management efforts for leading companies in insurance, banking, health management and telecommunications. James is a regular keynote speaker and trainer and he wrote Smart (Enough) Systems (Prentice Hall, 2007) with Neil Raden. James is a faculty member of the International Institute for Analytics.

Some time ago I was at a warranty conference and there was an interesting discussion about registration cards. You know, those postcard sized mailers you are asked to return to register your product. They often have all sorts of demographic and interest questions - asked by the company to flesh out its 360-degree view of its customers.One of the speakers was asked about this and he argued that, in fact, companies should ask for the absolute minimum information on these cards. This would, he said, increase response rates and would have little or no effect on the value of the data because all the demographic data could be purchased anyway once you had the list of customers and some basic information about them. In other words companies were identifying fewer customers because they were worrying too much about the amount of information they have about those customers. I took a couple of lessons away from this.

First, always consider the potential for external data to improve an internal process. Just because you want some data it does not mean you have to ask the customer for it. Buying external data and integrating it might be more cost-effective. And you might find you can infer the data analytically too, using historical records like purchases or returns to derive customer characteristics like preferences or approach to online purchasing.

Second it reminded me of the importance of beginning with the decision in mind. Too often I see companies embarking on data integration and quality initiatives designed to improve all their data - presumably so they can make better decisions - without really thinking through what those decisions are. If you begin, instead, with the decision, then you might find that you only need some of your data integrated, that some of it is good enough to make the decision (even though it is pretty dirty) or that some of the data you need has to be sourced from outside the company anyway.  If you don't know which decision you wish to make or improve then you can't know which data is truly important.

Posted July 28, 2010 12:55 PM
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