Following Data Over a Cliff

By Edward Cone  |  Posted Monday, August 02, 2010 21:08 PM

by Samuel Greengard

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I'm spending nearly four hours trying to track down a replacement ear hook for my Bluetooth headset. The last one had broken a couple of days earlier. I can buy a headset at a gazillion places, but I can't find a single place that sells the ear hooks.

The manager at Best Buy (where I bought the headset) informs me that there just isn't much demand. Hmm. Later, at a mall kiosk, the salesperson tells me he has people asking for them all the time but they don't sell them.

What's wrong with this picture? It seems that everyone is eager to sell the marquee product but no one is the least bit interested in taking care of things downstream--especially if there's no major profit involved. Best Buy, which averages about 27,000 square feet of space in a typical store, is unable to stock these items in a two square foot or smaller area. The guy at the kiosk company knows there's demand for these items but the business doesn't sell the ear hooks.

I finally resolved the problem by going online and ordering the replacement hooks from Amazon.com. But this problem -- an inability to fix something simple and service customers who have bought from a particular store -- is far too common. And it doesn't relate only to retail sales. The problem is pervasive throughout the modern enterprise -- in operations, finance, HR, IT, you name it. All too often, there's zero focus on the life-cycle of products, services, applications and systems.

I'm convinced this problem is at least somewhat rooted in technology. Nowadays, executives pore over BI and analytics data and make business decisions based solely on sales and profitability. Dandy. Except that it's easy to lose sight of fact there's a forest surrounding all those trees. Blindly following data is like obeying your car's navigation system and driving off a cliff because the map is wrong. A simple glance at the road would solve the problem.

In order to keep customers and business partners coming back -- and employees productive -- real live humans must think about the entire business and technology ecosystem and make sure that all the pieces are in place to sell and service the customer. Otherwise, people will go elsewhere or, in the case of employees, they will find short cuts that compromise business processes and security.

The solution? Step into the deepest trenches of your IT department -- and the business it supports -- and try to really understand, what's needed and what keeps people engaged and satisfied. Use data, but also common sense and creativity. If you succeed, you will create stickiness for processes, products, and services. You will have peoples' hearts, minds...and ears.