Few executives have time to decide, reports find

Today’s business world is a harried place where executives are forced to make more critical decisions than ever before, armed with only a fraction of the information they need, according to two separate reports made public this month.

In fact, despite the Internet, real-time data and instant communications, two-thirds of those polled for one of the studies admit they often make decisions based on nothing more than “gut feel.”

The studies, one commissioned by Teradata, the data warehouse arm of NCR Corp., and the other by business intelligence software maker Business Objects Inc., conclude that C-level managers lack the basic information they need to make sound decisions. But they aren’t lacking in raw data. Fifty-nine per cent of those polled by Teradata say the amount is doubling or tripling every 12 months.

The problem is also widespread. Seventy-nine per cent of those surveyed by Business Objects said they could point to bad decisions made where poor information was the primary culprit.

Both Teradata and Business Objects have positioned the use of business intelligence and data warehousing technology as antidotes to the decision-making problem.

“Many of these (respondents’) operational systems function well, but still operate fairly independently,” noted Rick Makos, president of Teradata Canada in Mississauga, Ont. “And in many cases they were built years ago. Data warehouses are being built to atone for those sins.” Makos said it’s the fractured or inconsistent sources of data, spread out across the organization with nothing tying them together, that are the true source of the problem.

But at least one expert says the epidemic of rushed decisions should be seen as a symptom of another, much larger problem. “Executives in this country have to be 10 times as fast and 10 times as smart,” said Nahum Goldmann, president of ARRAYDevelopment, an Ottawa-based business consultancy. “The cards are stacked against the Canadian executive.”

Canadians play on two different levels on the global business stage — either as part of multinational firms, in which case “decisions are not made in Canada, period,” Goldmann noted, or as a leader at a standalone Canadian firm. “Then it’s a survival game.” In the latter environment, decisions must be made very fast simply to stay alive, leaving little time to analyze data. In such a harsh operating environment, the use of software to gather more information is moot.

Goldmann also noted that most decisions involve routine, day-to-day items with little strategic impact. The Business Objects survey bears that out — respondents said they spend just under half of their time on them, with only 15 per cent of their time devoted to crucial matters.

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