How To Turn Data Into Actionable Strategies

So your organization has a big vision and uses that vision as the North Star for guiding strategic decisions. But when you’re only deploying against vision with no data to back it up, you’re flying blind.

This is where business intelligence (BI) comes in.

There are many definitions for BI, but in a nutshell it’s an architecture and set of integrated technologies, methodologies and processes that translate raw data into meaningful, useful information. And this output is used to enable more effective strategic decision making and planning to guide the organization.

BI is not new. In fact, it dates back to 1865 when the phrase was first introduced in the “Cyclopedia of Commercial and Business Anecdotes” in an article about a banker who gathered information and acted on it before his competition could and realized a profit. And in 1958, IBM computer scientist Hans Peter wrote a revolutionary article “A Business Intelligence System” that described an automatic system for disseminating information to the various sections of an organization.

Today, organizations are using it for the same purposes: forecasting, predicting future customer behavior, improving strategies, identifying new opportunities, searching for hidden patterns, etc. What’s changed is we have tools that now provide deeper data insights.

Why do you need BI?

With BI you’re able to see what happened, what is currently happening in real time, why, predict what will happen in the future, and better identify how to direct or reshape the outcome (what you want to have happen). In essence, BI empowers fact-based decision making.

It also helps ensure everyone on your team –from the C-suite to the sales team and operations to finance –is operating from a single source of truth. That is, rather than having sales using one system, set of tools and rules, and marketing having a completely different set, everyone has insight into the same data sets and information. It aligns decision making across the entire organization.

Most businesses are sitting on a mountain of data already, and BI bridges the gap between data and actionable strategies. For example, BI might enable your sales and marketing team to answer things like:

  • Which customer should we target, when, where and why?
  • What caused the dip in our lead generation last month?
  • What is the most profitable source of sales leads and what elements have impacted that source traditionally?
  • Where does our efficiency ratio drop and how is it impacting our operations?

You’ll also be able to more accurately identify whether that new product or service is worth the risk of launching, when is the best time to launch it and into which market, what the cost should be, etc. BI can, and should, be used across the entire business to make more informed decisions.

Stages of Business Intelligence

Traditionally, there have been five stages of BI: Data sourcing, data analysis, situation awareness, risk analysis, and decision support.

Data sources — gathering information from multiple data sources such as relational databases, analytic databases, and business applications like customer relationship management (CRM) platforms or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, to name a few.

Data analysis — the data collected from these sources is only useful if you can synthesize it from the various sources and derive meaning from it. This is where you take the information and turn it into knowledge.

Situation awareness — how you put context around the data. It’s observing and understanding the implications of what’s going on around you and forces that may be at play.

Risk analysis — this is where you take what you know (the data – information – knowledge) and utilize it to assess current and future risk, costs and benefits of taking one action versus another. It’s assessing risk versus reward.

Decision support — identify and select intelligent decisions and strategies. Some also refer to this as the presentation layer, which are the dashboards, reports and alerts used to present the findings from the analysis.

At our agency, we’ve further distilled this down to four. We like to think of business intelligence as a systematic combination of reporting, analytics, intelligence, and strategy.

  1. Reporting — what do we see?
  2. Analytics —what does it mean to us? It’s translating what you see into terms that relate to your business.
  3. Intelligence — what do we do? In other words, what do we do about what we’ve uncovered? How do we put the data into action?
  4. Strategy — what is the outcome we want to achieve? Strategy acts as a filter to ensure you’re not just seeing what you want to see, but what’s actually there and use that to guide next steps.

BI gives organizations the ability to gain access to focused analysis at a scale, complexity and speed not easily achievable with traditional operational reporting or spreadsheet analysis. It allows you to go layers deeper, to look at what could be influencing the changes in your business, and even stay one step ahead of those potential changes to mitigate risk.

According to Cindi Howson, research vice president at Gartner, “There is a need for reporting, but reporting alone is not enough. If you’re only doing reporting you’re behind already. Unless your reporting is smart and agile, you’re behind. You’re a laggard.”

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Yes, Uber Really Is Killing the Parking Business

An email from the CEO of a national parking operator has added some detail to the impact ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are having on demand for parking. The picture, at least for those trying to rent you a parking spot, is bleak.

In the email, unearthed from a company report by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ace Parking CEO John Baumgardner says that demand for parking at hotels in San Diego has dropped by 5 to 10%, while restaurant valet demand is down 25%. The biggest drop, unsurprisingly, has been at nightclubs, where demand for valet parking has dropped a whopping 50%.

The numbers appear to be estimates, and Baumgardner doesn’t describe a timeframe for the declines. The assessment, written in September of last year, is also limited to San Diego, though an Ace Parking executive told the Union-Tribune that it has seen “similar” declines at its 750 parking operations around the United States. The company is focused on using technology, including better parking scheduling and booking options, to remain healthy.

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But much more is at stake than the revenues of the parking business – cities stand to benefit immensely as demand for parking drops. Parking spaces and lots generate relatively little tax revenue or economic activity relative to commercial operations, and by increasing sprawl may actually harm the economy of cities like Los Angeles.

Even back in 2015, cities were already relaxing zoning requirements that set minimum parking allotments, and there are now even more signs that city planners are thinking differently about parking. Perhaps most dramatically, a new Major League Soccer stadium being planned for David Beckham’s Miami expansion team may include no new parking at all – but will have designated pickup zones for Uber and Lyft.

The decline of parking will only be accelerated if and when autonomous vehicles become widespread. That sea-change which will make it easier to locate parking at a distance from urban destinations, and could further reduce car ownership. That will be bad news for the Ace Parkings of the world – but everyone else should welcome the decline of the urban parking lot.

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The Struggle to Predict—and Prevent—Toxic Masculinity

Terrie Moffitt has been trying to figure out why men are terrible for more than 25 years. Or, to calibrate: Why some men are really terrible—violent, criminal, dangerous—but most men are not. And, while she’s at it, how to tell which man is going to become which.

A small number of people are responsible for the vast majority of crimes. Many of those people display textbook “antisocial behavior”—technically, a serious disregard for other people’s rights—as adolescents. The shape of the problem is called the age-crime curve, arrests plotted against the age of the offender. It looks like a shark’s dorsal fin, spiking in the teenage years and then long-tailing off to the left.

In 1992, Moffitt, now a psychologist at Duke University, pitched an explanation for that shape: The curve covers two separate groups. Most people don’t do bad things. Some people only do them as teenagers. And a very small number start doing them as toddlers and keep doing them until they go to prison or die. Her paper became a key hypothesis in psychology, criminology, and sociology, cited thousands of times.

In a review article in Nature Human Behaviour this week, Moffitt takes a ride through two decades of attempts to validate the taxonomy. Not for girls, Moffitt writes, because even though she studies both sexes, “findings have not reached consensus.” But for boys and men? Oh yeah.

To be clear, Moffitt isn’t trying to develop a toxicology of toxic masculinity here. As a researcher she’s interested in the interactions of genes and environment, and the reasons some delinquent children—but not all—turn into crime-committing adults. That’s a big enough project. But at this exact cultural moment, with women of the #MeToo movement calling sexual harassers and abusers to account just as mass shootings feel as if they’ve become a permanent recurring event—and when almost every mass shooter, up to and including the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, has been a man—I’m inclined to try to find explanations anywhere that seems plausible. US women are more likely to be killed by partners than anyone else. Men commit the vast majority of crimes in the US. So it’s worth querying Moffitt’s taxonomy to see if it offers any order to that chaos, even if it wasn’t built for it.

“Grown-ups who use aggression, intimidation, and force to get what they want have invariably been pushing other people around since their very early childhood,” Moffitt says via email from a rural vacation in New Zealand. “Their mothers report they were difficult babies, nursery day-care workers say they are difficult to control, and when all the other kids give up hitting and settle in as primary school pupils, teachers say they don’t. Their record of violating the rights of others begins surprisingly early, and goes forward from there.”

So if you could identify those kids then, maybe you could make things better later? Of course, things are way more complicated than that.

Since that 1993 paper, hundreds of studies have tested pieces of Moffitt’s idea. Moffitt herself has worked on a few prospective studies, following kids through life to see if they fall into her categories, and then trying to figure out why.

For example, she worked with the Dunedin Study, which followed health outcomes for more than 1,000 boys and girls in New Zealand starting in the early 1970s. Papers published from the data have included looks at marijuana use, physical and mental health, and psychological outcomes. Moffitt and her colleagues found that about a quarter of the males in the study fit the criteria she’d laid out for “adolescence limited” antisociability; they’re fine until they hit their teens, then they do all sorts of bad stuff, and then they stop. And 10 percent were “life-course persistent”—they have trouble as children, and it doesn’t stop. As adolescents, all had about the same rates of bad conduct.

But as children, the LCP boys scored much higher on a set of specific risks. Their mothers were younger. They tended to have been disciplined more harshly, and have experienced more family strife as kids. They scored lower on reading, vocabulary, and memory tests, and had a lower resting heart rate—some researchers think that people feel lower heart rates as discomfort and undertake riskier behaviors in pursuit of the adrenaline highs that’ll even them out. “LCP boys were impulsive, hostile, alienated, suspicious, cynical, and callous and cold toward others,” Moffitt writes of the Dunedin subjects in her Nature Human Behaviour article. As adults, “they self-reported excess violence toward partners and children.” They had worse physical and mental health in their 30s, were more likely to be incarcerated, and were more likely to attempt suicide.

Other studies have found much the same thing. A small number of identifiable boys turn into rotten, violent, unhappy men.

Could Moffitt’s taxonomy account for sexual harassers and abusers? In one sense, it seems unlikely: Her distinction explicitly says by adulthood there should only be a small number of bad actors, yet one of the lessons of #MeToo has been that every woman, it seems, has experienced some form of harassment.

Meta-analyses of the incidence of workplace sexual harassment vary in their outcomes, but a large-scale one from 2003 that covered 86,000 women reported that 56 percent experienced “potentially harassing” behaviors and 24 percent had definitely been harassed. Other studies get similar results.

But as pollsters say, check the cross-tabs. Harassment has sub-categories. Many—maybe most—women experience the gamut of harassing behaviors, but sub-categories like sexual coercion (being forced to have sex as a quid pro quo or to avoid negative consequences) or outright assault are rarer than basic institutional sexism and jerky, inappropriate comments. “What women are more likely to experience is everyday sexist behavior and hostility, the things we would describe as gender harassment,” says John Pryor, a psychologist at Illinois State University who studies harassment.

Obviously, any number greater than zero here is too high. And studies of prevalence can’t tell you if so many women are affected because all men harass at some low, constant ebb or few men do it, like, all the time. Judging by reports of accusations, the same super-creepy men who plan out sexual coercion may also impulsively grope and assault women. Those kind of behaviors, combined with the cases where many more accusers come forward after the first one, seem to me to jibe with the life-course persistent idea. “Sometimes people get caught for the first time as an adult, but if we delve into their history, the behavior has been there all along,” Moffitt says. “Violating the rights of others is virtually always a life-long lifestyle and an integral part of a person’s personality development.”

That means it’s worth digging into people’s histories. Whisper networks have been the de facto means of protecting women in the workplace; the taxonomy provides an intellectual framework for giving them a louder voice, because it suggests that men with a history of harassment and abuse probably also have a future of it.

Now, some writers have used the idea of toxic masculinity to draw a line between harassment, abuse, and mass shootings. They’re violent, and the perpetrators tend to be men. But here, Moffitt’s taxonomy may be less applicable.

Despite what the past few years have felt like, mass shootings are infrequent. And many mass shooters end up committing suicide or being killed themselves, so science on them is scant. “Mass shootings are such astonishingly rare, idiosyncratic, and multicausal events that it is impossible to explain why one individual decides to shoot his or her classmates, coworkers, or strangers and another does not,” write Benjamin Winegard and Christopher Ferguson in their chapter of The Wiley Handbook of the Psychology of Mass Shootings.

That said, researchers have found a few commonalities. The shooters are often suicidal, or more precisely have stopped caring whether they live or die, says Adam Lankford, a criminologist at the University of Alabama. Sometimes they’re seeking fame and attention. And they share a sense that they themselves are victims. “That’s how they justify attacking others,” Lankford says. “Sometimes the perceptions are based in reality—I was bullied, or whatever—but sometimes they can be exacerbated by mental health problems or personality characteristics.”

Though reports on mass shooters often say that more than half of them are also domestic abusers, that number needs some unpacking. People have lumped together mass shootings of families—domestic by definition—with public mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas, or school shootings. Disaggregate the public active shooters from the familicides and the number of shooters with histories of domestic abuse goes down. (Of course, that doesn’t change preposterously high number of abused women murdered by their partners outside of mass shooting events.)

What may really tip the mass shooter profile away from Moffitt’s taxonomy, though, is that people in the life-course persistent cohort do uncontrolled, crazy stuff all the time. Yes, some mass shooters have a history of encounters with law enforcement, let’s say. But some don’t. Mass shootings are, characteristically, highly planned events. “I’m not saying it’s impossible to be a mass shooter and have poor impulse control, but if you have poor impulse control you won’t be able to go for 12 months of planning an attack without ending up in jail first,” Lankford says.

Moffitt isn’t trying to build a unified field theory of the deadly patriarchy. When I suggest that the societal structures that keep men in power relative to women, generally, might explain the behavior of her LCP cohort, she disagrees. “If sexual harassment and mass shootings were the result of cultural patriarchy and societal expectations for male behavior, all men would be doing it all the time,” Moffitt says. “Even though media attention creates the impression that these forms of aggression are highly prevalent and all around us, they are nevertheless still extremely rare. Most men are trustworthy, good, and sensible.”

She and her colleagues continue to look for hard markers for violence or lack of impulse control, genes or neurobiological anomalies. (A form of the gene that codes for a neurotransmitter called monoamine oxidase inhibitor A might give some kids protection against lifelong effects of maltreatment, she and her team have found. By implication not having that polymorphism, then, could predispose a child raised under adverse circumstances to psychopathology as an adult.) Similarly, nobody yet knows what digital-native kids in either cohort will do when they move their bad behavior online. One might speculate that it looks a lot like GamerGate and 4chan, though that sociological and psychological work is still in early days.

But for now, Moffitt and her co-workers have identified risk factors and childhood conditions that seem to create these bad behaviors, or allow them to flourish. That’s the good news. “We know a lifestyle of aggression and intimidation toward others starts so young,” Moffitt says. “It could be preventable.”

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