Data is out. Answers are in.

Written on: November 11, 2019 by Phillip J. Baratz

As I walked through Boston’s Logan Airport last month, I noticed a quote on one of the rotating advertising screens at my gate: Data is out. Answers are in. Though I cannot take credit for the line, I was sure that it succinctly said everything we’ve been preaching for the past year—and I embraced it!
Data is everywhere. It is in our back-office accounting systems (BOS). It is in our business intelligence reporting tools. It is in our tank-monitoring data and it is in the reporting we get from our “Big Brother” driver analytics. There is a notion that data is the true commodity and will lead to profits and success—while partially true, it is also partially false. Just having access to information does not, by itself, lead to better decisions and greater profits.

Data is only valuable if it can be used.

Purveyors of Business Intelligence (BI), ourselves included, have had a somewhat misguided belief that the job of BI (and all) reporting was to hand over “actionable information” to our clients or to internal constituents. However, what ended up happening was that there were now more reports than ever before, offering even more data points, and leading to much of the same response—nothing. Actionable information is only of value if acted upon. If not, why bother having the information?
Changing behavior is hard
Study after study, from the Harvard Business Review to industry-specific journals, point out that often the biggest challenge to beneficial change in an organization is simply behavior. Resistance to change is a typical human reaction, often a defensive response, but it is very common. While change does come over time (horse and buggy to car, land lines to cell phones, wired alarm systems to wireless and “let’s look at the map” to routing software), the transition is usually long, tough and scary. The notion of, What we have isn’t broken, so why change, all too often really means I have to learn something new, and I am scared that it might cost me my job.
We just developed a new software platform (released to only a few beta clients for this winter) that we’ve been working on for more than a year (although I would claim to really have been working on it for the better part of my 30 years in this industry!). The platform, as intended, will totally revamp the way that deliveries are planned, scheduled and routed. It works in partnership with our clients, their BOS, any tank monitors and routing packages that are in use.
While working through the final steps—those that include customer service representatives (CSRs), dispatchers and drivers—we struggled with the potential “traps” that would require behavioral changes. Suggesting changes in deliveries such that you can run a leaner fleet or require fewer drivers is great, until those changes have to be handled by a person, especially if that person has been doing his or her job the same way for the past 20 or 30 years.

Amidst change, changing behavior can be more difficult than altering business operations.

The “aha” moment—moving from data to answers—occurred when we incorporated into the platform a set of dealer-approved rules, ranging from which accounts are eligible for consideration to the number of days of fuel that need to be in reserve for certain types of customers. That led to “answers” already integrated in the current processes. In most cases, it occurred by updating/overriding delivery dates in the BOS. This automation led one of our clients to say, So, if my dispatcher didn’t know we were running this platform…he wouldn’t know we were running the platform!
The complex math behind it wasn’t the problem that needed to be overcome, it was the behavioral changes. To overcome that challenge, we simply focused on the outcome and “answer.”
People don’t want data. They don’t want reports. Although the data and the reports are very interesting to some, what they really want is to know what to do with all of it. They simply want answers, and now we’ve got them! ICM