Almost all executives want more and faster information, and almost all companies are racing to provide it. What many of them overlook, though, is that the real aim should be not faster information but faster decision making — and those aren’t the same things.
In an era in which we can search the entire Internet in less than a second, expectations for the speed and flexibility of information retrieval within companies have risen dramatically. However, access to corporate data in organizations is rarely as rapid as an Internet search. “Why can’t I get information on our sales just as quickly as I can search the Internet?” is a frequently overheard complaint. That frustration has led many organizations to try to speed up the delivery of data and analysis, particularly in the context of decision making (typically described as “business intelligence,” or BI). But few organizations have reached an optimum with regard to how fast important information reaches in boxes, desks and brains. Lack of information flexibility is another common problem. While standard reports can still be useful, as the amount of information in companies grows it becomes increasingly difficult to anticipate all information desires and delivery frequencies ahead of the need. Consulting companies that study information consumption routinely find that more than half of all standard reports aren’t being used by anyone anymore. Inflexible standard reporting means not only that paper is wasted, but that an even more valuable resource — executive attention — is misdirected.
The Leading Question
When aiming to speed up information flow, which kinds of information matter most?
- The aim should be to enable faster decision making, not faster information. Focus on information speed and flexibility that facilitates that.
- Not all information is needed equally fast, nor in equally perfect condition.
- Executives often ask for more information than they use.
Slow and inflexible information formats aren’t just minor annoyances. They can lead to major business problems. If organizations don’t find out quickly that, for example, a decline in sales has occurred with respect to a particular product or geographic region, they can’t address the problem quickly. If they don’t know that they have an issue with manufacturing quality, they can’t fix the production line. Slow information also can lead to issues of accountability and morale. As one European CEO told us, “If we have faster information we can make faster decisions. If we make faster decisions the performance increases — and it did in our company when we speeded up the information.