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There is a case to be made for management to process and react to data slowly, not quickly.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

Everything today needs to be delivered at the fastest speed possible. There is a fascination with getting data quickly. There is this mindset that says that all data must be captured and processed as quickly as possible in every case. It is my belief that there are as many problems with getting data quickly, as there are with getting data late. Businesses used to depend on receiving regular mail. Then there were telexes, which were replaced by faxes. Now, everyone has e-mail and instant messenger service.

The problem becomes apparent in light of the differences between strategic data and tactical data. In order to illustrate the problem, consider a system which I observed several years ago.

There was a company that had an executive information system. In this system, the executives could access a computer and see such information as year-to-date sales, month-to-date sales and daily sales. Each hour the figures were updated, so the information was current. Sure enough, the executives at this company were constantly looking at their sales barometer. It became almost a nervous habit. The executives loved this system.

But one has to ask—what kind of decisions were they making because of the data? Were the executives coming into the office and seeing that monthly sales were down and because they were down, were they embarking on a multi-million dollar ad campaign? Did the executives see that daily sales were down and then decide to open up a new line of business? Did the executives see that yearly sales were down and then decide to expand to China?

The truth is that there are long-term strategic decisions and there are short-term tactical decisions. A daily/monthly/yearly sales system such as I have described is useful for tactical decisions, but if used for long-term strategic decisions, it is not only not useful but dangerous.

If an organization finds itself making long-term strategic decisions because of up-to-the-second tactical information, the result is similar to oversteering a car.

Nearly every young person, when they first decide to drive experiences the phenomenon of oversteering the car. When it comes time to turn left, they turn extremely. When it comes time to turn right, they turn extremely the other way. Looking at the car from a distance, it appears that a drunk person is driving the car. Student drivers quickly learn to not oversteer the car.

The same effect occurs when strategic decisions are made in the corporation based on the most current tactical data. Deciding to expand into China as a marketplace may be a good idea. However, marketing to China has nothing to do with daily or monthly sales. Even using annual sales as a metric is questionable.

There is a case to be made for management processing and acting on data slowly, not quickly. Of course the clerical person needs to receive information as quickly as possible. But it is very questionable whether management should react to detailed data quickly.

Otherwise the car will be all over the road.


Bill Inmon is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

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