January 07, 2013, 7:42 AM — I'm a numbers guy-you have to be if you're an analyst-and I'm a firm believer that analytics, used properly, could not only change your company but also change the world. However, I've spent the last few weeks studying some of the bigger market failures of the last decade and, in many cases, executive management had the information it needed to avoid the mistake but simply chose not to use it.
Years ago, I did a study at IBM to understand how the company lost some of the markets it dominated. IBM was extremely numbers-focused, and here I found an intentional corruption of study results to give executives a sense of false comfort. It was so bad at one point that it cost the IBM CEO his job and nearly put one of America's oldest and most successful companies out of business.
Analytics is capable of giving executives unprecedented insight into assuring that their decisions are the correct ones, but many who pay for the deployment of these tools will likely instead find they are used to showcase what idiots they were after the fact. This would be like a car safety system that, rather than prevent an accident, only reported on the failure of the driver after an accident.
I'm not arguing that analytics are bad. If corporate culture favors positive information over accurate information, and if the winning choice comes from the most powerful executive, rather than the best informed one, then analytics is only going to make a bad decision look worse, as it will show that the bad decision could have been avoided. If the bad behavior isn't fixed first, it will force whoever uses the tool to either falsify the results or constantly be a source of career-ending information on bad decisions-which in and of itself is a great path to unemployment for the user.
Microsoft's Experience: Make a Decision, Then Run the Numbers
Watching Microsoft about five years ago, I couldn't reconcile the fact that CEO Steve Ballmer-even more of a numbers guy than I am-seemed to be making horrid mistakes that should have been avoidable. I figured either the numbers from Microsoft's internal market research organization weren't getting to Ballmer or the folks in market research were incompetent. After an interview with the head of market research, I concluded that both assumptions were wrong.
Related: Top 12 Microsoft Stories of 2012