Execs Want Focus On Goals, Not Just Metrics

They're still using analytic dashboards, but tying the data to strategic goals.

Doug Henschen, Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

November 13, 2009

3 Min Read

Look To The Internet

Some of the most decision-support-savvy executives can be found in e-commerce. For example, Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com, is said to use dashboards to help set his daily schedule. If the problem of the day is gross profit margins, that will drive who he calls in for a discussion. "If you get invited into a meeting with that kind of metrics-oriented CEO, you better have your hands on the data, including the detail at the next level down," says David Schrader, director of strategy and marketing at Teradata, the vendor behind Overstock's data warehousing environment.

Overstock can roll up its profit and loss statement every two hours, "which is absolutely world class," Schrader says. That capability gives executives accurate, up-to-date insight into the financial results they can expect, and it also drives operational decisions such as spot buys of TV advertising.

Whether a company is an e-commerce powerhouse or not, digital marketing channels like e-mail, social media, and online advertising networks are increasingly important. Thus, top executives should be watching forward-looking, upstream measures such as Web site performance, Web-driven lead generation, and sales pipeline information. Here, again, you must be careful to select the right metrics.

"A lot of people are measuring the wrong thing, like how many people came in the door," Schrader says. "What you really want to measure is how many people came in the door and became qualified leads."

And once prospects become customers, you'll want to know if they are good or bad customers. That's where analyses such as activity-based costing and customer segmentation come in. Lessons learned should come full circle and be reapplied to lead-generation campaigns and marketing offers.

Tell A Story With The Data

Considering all the IT systems now in place, the growing dominance of Internet-based marketing, and the intensely digital nature of services-based industries, there's no doubt that data-driven decision making is the way forward. But the key questions are, how prepared are these organizations to synthesize and share key performance indicators, and how prepared are executives to draw insight from information?

CIO surveys, software sales stats, and business bestsellers point to surging interest in business intelligence and business analytics. Villanova University's School of Business recently responded by changing its curriculum with data-centric decision making in mind. For example, it added an undergrad course on analytics and risk assessment, and it updated the statistics courses required at both the undergrad and MBA levels to be more practical and applied.

The curriculum changes were guided in part by extensive interviews with a group of 16 business leaders (including Schmidt of Johnson & Johnson). The resulting "Current State of Analytics in the Corporation" report says nearly as much about tech skills as it does about executive decision support: The sweet spot for new hires continues to be that elusive combination of technical and business know-how and the ability to "tell a story" with data.

Doug Henschen is editor in chief of IntelligentEnterprise.com, where he examines the intersection of business intelligence and information management with enterprise applications and business processes. Henschen has covered business technology for more than 10 years.

About the Author(s)

Doug Henschen

Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of Transform Magazine, and Executive Editor at DM News. He has covered IT and data-driven marketing for more than 15 years.

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