20/20 Vision and Strategic Differentiation

Jake Freivald's picture
 By | February 03, 2011
February 03, 2011

It's not enough for you to see it all. Everyone inside and outside your organization who needs information also needs to be served.

“20/20 vision” is nominal performance for human sight: Some people are better, some worse, but most people are pretty close – and when we say someone has 20/20 vision, we usually mean they see pretty well.

Unfortunately, “20/20” is also nominal performance for businesses’ use of information, and it’s not a good thing. Let’s look at the numbers.

20% of the stuff you have

Anecdotally, we hear that they access and analyze less than 20% of their data.* This includes all of the information that they use to help them make decisions about how to run their companies.

Imagine trying to decide when to turn your car with 80% of the windshield covered in ice. (Those of us in the northeast have experienced more of that recently than we care to think about.) But it’s actually worse than that, since the information tends to be scattered from place to place – it’s like having all of your windshield covered in ice, with little bits that you can see through where your scraper happens to have penetrated to the glass.

20% of the people who need it

We also find that organizations tend to deliver information to only about 20% of their employees. Now our car is beginning to look more like the one the Flintstones drive – everyone’s running flat-out to make the car move, hoping that the guy behind the wheel is doing a good job of steering. Except, of course, that the driver’s having a hard time seeing.

And it’s worse than that, because most of the time when we ask that question, we ask a follow-up: “How many of those people are outside of your firewall, like customers, partners, suppliers, remote employees, and regulators?” You can guess how rarely they’ve included those people.

The issues

Can we increase both of those numbers to 100%? Probably not. But if we improve them, we can make a serious change in our corporate performance. We can make ourselves stand out from the crowd, delivering outstanding performance instead of simply “nominal”.

The first number is why we focus so much on integrating and accessing all of the systems other companies don’t. Gerry Cohen, our founder, knew decades ago that to create really relevant information delivery systems (there was no BI back then) we had to access all data, wherever it lived.

The second number is why our technology affects the way we look at BI. It’s what drives us to create the world’s largest BI applications – because we want to gain massive user adoption. We have BI applications with millions of users, everything from public-facing crime tracking systems to applications that help ordinary people analyze their bank statements.

And let me focus on the word “applications” for a moment.

You can’t give information to more people by deploying tools. For example, let’s say we want to give our entire contact center the right information about every customer who calls. Furthermore, we want to give them the metrics by which we measure their performance. We figure that by showing them how to align their activities with our expectations, we’ll improve customer service, among other things. Give a Customer Service Rep (CSR) a slice-and-dice tool? Crazy. Spreadsheets? Useless or worse. Basic reports? It’s something, but only a nominal approach.

BI applications make more sense. Ford used a widely deployed BI application to shave millions from their warranty claims. Dealer Services Corporation used one to provide borrowing guidance to used car dealerships. Administaff uses one to provide analysis of talent, money, and benefits for their temporary professional workers and client companies. These companies are getting more information to more people, and differentiating themselves in the process.

My colleague Kevin Quinn talks about how important it is to understand these kinds of users in a white paper called, surprisingly enough, Five Things You Need To Know About Your Users Before You Deploy Business Intelligence. It’s worth checking out. 

The bottom line? Don’t think of 20/20 vision as “good”. Think of it as typical. And then tap into more systems and deliver information to more people. You’ll be amazed by the differentiation you gain.


* A lot of companies tell us it’s less than that, and we try to make it more than that. Worse still, the people we’re talking to may just be guessing – when people don’t have data, they too often take refuge in the so-called “80/20 rule.” But that’s a different post. Anyway, this is anecdotal, not scientific, but I think it’s a reasonable guess.