Six ways to make (much) better decisions

This is a guest blog post by Dr. Stuart Wells, FICO

At FICO World 2016 in Washington, DC, I described the latest breakthroughs in decision management technology. The funny thing about these breakthroughs is that while they were developed in FICO’s labs, they didn’t start there. They started where so many innovations begin — with our customers.

Now, our customers are an unusual set of companies. Unlike many firms, which are just starting to explore how they can use Big Data to improve decisions, our customers have been doing this for years — in some cases, decades. FICO itself has been at this for 60 years now.

So there’s no better place to learn the lessons of decision management than from our customers. And over the past 60 years, we’ve distilled those lessons into best practices and products. The lessons I share below have served as guiding principles for our development efforts.

Systematize subject matter expertise

We’ve learned that the codification of industry and solutions specifics — by gathering and writing down subject matter expert perspective on decision processes – is critical , it is also a gap in most companies. Even where the “subject matter expertise” knowledge is captured, it’s difficult to infuse it into the systems that drive operational decisions. One way to solve this is by mapping out your decisions in a formal structure, using the new decision model notation adopted as a standard last year by the Object Management Group. This is critical, because you can’t systematically improve a decision if everyone involved doesn’t understand it. Decision modeling gets everyone on the same page.

Speed up solution creation

We’ve learned that while creating intelligent or analytically powered applications is the goal, the practice of application development needs to go much faster. Rapid application development technologies represent a sea change in the speed in which we can deliver value. At FICO, we have seen the time needed to develop new applications shrink from months and sometimes years to just weeks as a result of embedding RAD tools into our platform.

Accelerate insight to execution

We’ve learned that shortening time to insight is a game changer.  This is not only the time to deliver a brand new application but the time to go from developing an insight through analytics to modifying the analytic models that can put this insight into your production stream.  Change management has become a hallmark of the solutions we build, rather than simply a characteristic or attribute of the solution.

Build institutional memory

We’ve learned that it’s not enough to make great decisions, you have to capture the decisions themselves, to treat them like assets, to store them and learn from them.  Think about it — how many of the people who know your current decision process and guidelines do you expect to be around in a year? In five years? In many industries, regulators expect you to be able to call up and explain decisions made — and even if they didn’t, your future success depends on understanding what’s working now, and why. Basically, you need to treat decisions like assets. Capturing the decision logic and creating a real knowledge management infrastructure used to be a by-product of our own Decision Management Suite, but our customers told us it is now mission-critical.

Make analytics more accessible

We’ve learned that providing an open framework to easily add powerful and advanced analytics is unique and tremendously valuable.  Being able to quickly and easily leverage the amazing analytic IP — for anyone, in any capacity, to quickly plug analytic modules into a business flow or decision orchestration — is empowering and is the future of the democratization of analytics.

There’s a sixth piece of advice I’ll share, and it’s the most important lesson of all: Focus on the decision, not the data.

This may seem a little odd in a blog called Data Matters. Data does matter, but it’s a means to an end, not the end itself. Too many businesses have learned the hard way that a Big Data project shouldn’t start by collecting data — it should start by focusing on the decision. I have seen businesses drowning in their data lakes, unable to realize the value of their investments.

Take it from a company that has been helping customers improve decisions for 60 years. Businesses that start with the decision get better results, and get them faster.

Dr. Stuart Wells is chief technology and product officer at global analytics firm FICO.