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Moving at the Speed of People

The third major problem with the prevailing attitude toward information systems involves people. Because of the reliance on people to provide the "intelligence" in a system and the lag between data analysis and operational processes, new ideas move only at the speed of people. You can see this problem in the training and adoption lag, the use of policy manuals and intranets, and the prevailing focus of knowledge management on supporting people.

The Training and Adoption Lag

When new approaches, techniques, and policies must influence people's behavior, typically there's a noticeable lag. Explaining to people how a new process should work takes time, and they must take time out from their jobs to attend training. These formal processes take time and can also create an adoption lag. Adopting a new policy is hard until everyone has been trained, for instance.

For example, suppose your company is concerned about customer retention, so you develop a new policy for making retention offers. You might put it in writing, e-mail it to all your customer service representatives (CSRs), and arrange for training sessions for them. If you have CSRs in a number of locations (to provide 24x7 coverage, for instance) or have outsourced them, training might require several separate training events. In addition, you might not want the new policy followed until everyone can follow it consistently. Eventually you have trained everyone, given notes on the new policy to everyone, updated the new CSR training, and can roll out the new policy. How long might this process take? Days or weeks—perhaps months.

Procedure Manuals and Intranets

A consequence of using people to make decisions in information systems is the widespread use of procedure manuals, often made available on an intranet. Policies and procedures are in writing to ensure that a manual process is carried out in a consistent and compliant way. This information is widely distributed, often in electronic as well as written form. Incentives for using the policy or punishments for failing to might be developed to increase adoption.

In practice, however much those who understand the regulations try to write a manual explaining how to make a decision, adoption is limited by the extent to which experts can explain what must be done and by the typical problem that not everyone will follow the manuals every time or perhaps even read them. In addition, relying on auditing and random checks to enforce compliance is an expensive and inefficient way to ensure consistency of operation. Attempting to make sure a decision is made consistently and accurately by publishing a manual is an uphill struggle, no matter how good the distribution mechanism is.

Knowledge Management

The final consideration for the challenges of moving at the speed of people is knowledge management. It's often proposed as a way to capture an organization's knowledge to make it accessible to others and increase the predictability and quality of decision making. The challenge with knowledge management is twofold. First, it still assumes a manual decision-making process, which might not be practical for many decisions in a fast-moving world. If you need to deliver a decision in seconds, no amount of knowledge management or training will help. You must automate the decision. Second, it focuses on managing documents electronically to automate and improve a process designed around paper. Like the obsession with using reports, managing knowledge as though it belongs in documents is limiting. Breaking down large blocks of knowledge into pieces is hard, so linking them to systems that need them, regulations that drive them, and circumstances that might affect them are also difficult.

Knowledge management is not useless in an enterprise decision management approach. Many knowledge management techniques can help capture the information you need to adopt enterprise decision management. The problem is focusing on capturing and managing knowledge, not on operationalizing knowledge in the information systems and processes that make your business function.

Unfortunately, an organization can invest heavily in IT and yet still find that it doesn't have systems smart enough to support it as it moves into the future. The lack of focus on decisions, especially operational decisions, and IT's focus on reporting for managers might be the primary culprits, but the characteristics of most application development have a role, too.

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