The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Kevin Connor, chief product officer at Decision Lens, a company based in Arlington, Virginia that makes data-driven decision-making software. Connor discussed the importance of using quantifiable metrics in assessing a company’s priorities to identify the best outcomes and the value of using data to guide organizational decision making.
This interview has been edited.
Joshua New: Decision Lens has both Amtrak and an NFL team, the Kansas City Chiefs, as clients. How could such different kinds of organizations have similar needs for analytics?
Kevin Connor: We have clients across the board, from pharmaceutical companies to branches of the military to federal, state, and local government to professional sports organizations. The similarity between organizations like the Chiefs and Amtrak is that they are all faced with a common problem—they have performance goals and many paths they could pursue to achieve them. Those options are further complicated by a variety of quantifiable factors and qualitative assumptions regarding how their resource choices impact their goals. There is always more than one way to add up to the desired goal, and there are even more ways to miss it. Companies want to be sure they bring together the best thinking and the best data to point the way. This is the strength of the Decision Lens platform.
Decision Lens is a cloud-based software platform that allows users to put their strategy and objectives at the center of the decision-making process. We help users prioritize their essential success criteria in order to assess the people, projects, or ideas in question, and how their resources are deployed to enable them. The software enables on-the-fly scenario analysis and data analytics to provide insights to identify the investment options that will deliver the greatest returns.
New: How can data-driven decision-making affect the priorities of a company or government agency?
Connor: Instead of actually affecting the priorities of a company, Decision Lens simply clarifies what the organization’s priorities really are. We help teams better express their main strategies and concerns, and clarify their priorities in a way that enables them to better make selection decisions and allocate their resources. We do not necessarily aim to change the priorities of any organization, though this sometimes happens as a by-product of seeing them clearly. Instead, we aim to shine a light on their existing priorities to make them easier to evaluate. The data-driven nature of the solution provides an even playing field for comparison and creates a sense of fairness, where things are held to a standard set of measures and set of criteria. We are quantifying what is often believed to be unquantifiable, which provides organizations with a much clearer objective view about what the actual decision is at hand, what the trade-offs are between options, where the specific disagreements are, and so on.
New: What is your favorite example of Decision Lens revealing something unexpected about a user’s priorities?
Connor: From the state government prioritizing the systems required to support the legal sale of marijuana, to the NFL team that waited to get their guy longer than they thought they could, to the school district that chose an unlikely site for a new school, there are many interesting examples. But my favorite is closer to my heart as a former life sciences guy. A few years ago we were working with a consumer products company that had a strong national brand and was planning to expand geographically to a new market. Before it could execute on its expansion plans, its core market was disrupted by the introduction of a new private-label product that required immediate attention.To stay competitive, it had to shift from an expansion-based strategy to a defensive posture, based on product differentiation in an existing market. We had helped the company through a strategic planning exercise under a specific set of assumptions, but then this disruptive force changed the market. Without losing any time, the company was able to very nimbly and quickly adapt to the changing landscape, one that was focused on the same geography to preserve its brand leadership. It simply created new uses and market needs. The company launched new applications and targets for the product in order to preserve its leadership stance and found new channels to partner with to maintain leverage and sell in bulk. It was a great moment for dynamic decision-making and true business agility.
New: Interestingly, you do not market to consumers because you used Decision Lens software on your own business model to determine that this would not be a sound business decision. What kind of data factored into this analysis?
Connor: We actually perform that analysis on a regular basis. We conducted an internal business-to-business (B2B) versus business-to-consumer assessment and we agreed that there was far more opportunity for Decision Lens to be effective and profitable in the enterprise arena. In reality, this is a prioritization call, not a viability decision. The consumer market certainly could be viable for us, but prioritizing it above all of the untapped B2B targets has not been a strategy yet. Our data shows that the amount of opportunity in the enterprise market, in both commercial and public sectors, is huge and we have only begun to scratch the surface of that market.
New: Using data to influence priorities and decisions is a useful strategy for business planning, but I cannot help but imagine this kind of software would be useful for other sectors—healthcare in particular. Are there any plans to use Decision Lens for other types of applications?
Connor: There are dozens of use cases out there that we have not even begun to work with yet, and healthcare is certainly included in that. As competition for healthcare services grow, how will health systems decide what to specialize in? Or what markets to target? How will they decide which technologies to invest in? The opportunity is endless and there is a lot of runway for us. Many organizations have a need for better prioritization and selection techniques. In general, the number of hard resource decisions never stops increasing, so there is a long list of organizations dealing with the problem of funding and resource prioritization. Governments are always making decisions about programs to fund and commercial organizations are always trying to prioritize technologies and solutions they will work on to solve big problems. Getting these choices right is critical, and impacts all aspects of our daily lives. We’re trying to make those decisions ever more intelligent and automated for our customers, and there are a lot of opportunities where Decision Lens could be applied.