Saturday, August 16, 2014

The price of awareness

The price of awareness

Today’s blog while a bit dramatic and spiced with some movie references will attempt to highlight the correlation between the pursuit of knowledge, the challenges that we have to overcome to achieve this enlightenment and more importantly the moral and ethical obligations that we contract once we achieve this knowledge.

The human race is defined by its curiosity and the motivation to learn more: from our humble beginnings on Earth, we have been able to achieve a highly technological and evolving society. These inherent personality traits drive entrepreneurship and business expansion from the CEO to the entry-level clerk in an organization.

If we take a typical Fortune 500 company and we apply this logic, we will find numerous individuals that work every day to improve their day-2-day. In order to do this, these individuals must make a significant number of decisions and there is no better way to make these decisions than by having the right information.

However, getting the right information is typically not easy. There are multiple systems and thus multiple sources, not to mention that there are many interests in the organization that might influence how the data is captured, stored and reported. In order to address these challenges, historically organizations have started large Decision Support System programs, typically with a Data Warehouse strategy at its core. However, the implementation of these programs took a long time and it was always a very risky enterprise, not necessarily because of technology but due to the fact that the effort challenged the status quo where particular individuals or team where the guardians of information. In spite of these challenges, many companies prevailed and they were able to successfully implement Enterprise Business Intelligence systems. However, not many of these systems were able to deliver the value that it was promised. In fact quite a large number of implementations was left without use after the initial pilot or testing.

A group of researchers from a prestigious consulting and delivery firm started looking into this and they realized that in many of these situations the systems were working properly and the information was being reported with extreme accuracy but people still refused to use the system. When they explored a little deeper, they found two some surprising things:

a)    The new system had different results for some of the key metrics that the organization was using in the past

b)   The organization decision makers were getting access to new information that they did not have access before

The researchers were puzzled, as the results seemed to indicate that the new programs had been extremely successful both correcting past mistakes and providing light to previously dark areas.

However, what they failed to consider initially was the price of awareness. On the surface, while it looked that the new system had more accurate values for key metrics, they found out that some people had made their entire career in the organization reporting the old values and sometimes these values had been reported to top management and Wall Street itself. Publicly acknowledging that the old values were incorrect would have caused a severe reputation hit to the individuals who built their careers using the old ways not to mention a possible catastrophic stock drop for the organization.

In regards to the second situation - where people had new data available that they did had before, they also found that these new data insights were holding people accountable to new standards and as such they both limited the amount of freedom the decision makers used to have before the new systems became available and it was also binding them to perform an action or set actions based on the new information available.

So in a way it was like in the matrix when Neo was offered two pills: red (to start a new path on the search for knowledge) or blue (to forget and go back to his old life). While Neo took the red pill and he never regretted the decision, there were other individuals who did not have the same strength of character and got to the point of betraying the entire Human race for a false hope of going back to the bliss of ignorance.

There is no denying it, with new information comes new power and with new power comes new responsibility. There are moral, ethical and sometimes-financial implications that are implicitly accepted when we leave our ignorance behind and choose to see the truth as it is. However, history has proved that we will always be better off if act according to the right, truthful information and as inconvenient as it can to be “ahead of your time” it will always pay off to do the right thing.

If you are in this situation, don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith and trust that everything will eventually be all right. After all, there is no greater legacy that you can leave behind than preparing yourself/your Team/your Company to face the future with the right tools and perspective having started the change while there was still time left in the clock.

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