Most of the businesspeople I know use Google Trendsan online tool that allows ordinary people to compare the frequency of Google search terms to check out how an idea is resonating with the market, running multiple quick analyses to get an understanding of relative trends. I see this as an example of a new class of tools I call "thinking support," a kind of pre-decision support option that fits within the strategic management process.
I believe routine business decisions should be as automated as possible. After all, when a decision is routine and you understand the rules well enough, that decision can be made by softwareusing a decision engineacting on those rules in a consistent, unbiased and auditable fashion. We've seen a lot of examples of this over the past few years, such as program trading in securities, granting consumer credit, mortgage origination, inventory management, and support-desk escalation processes. But there are many more opportunities: markdown-pricing decisionsin fact any pricing decisionmerchandise-mix planning, resource scheduling.
Because this is a new category, these tools tend to be a collection of not-yet-very-well-connected ideas from different sources. Take a look at the work going on at such diverse places as Applied Minds, The Swiss Institute of Technology, Group Systems, Minciu Sodas and Ventana Systems for a taste of the different types of thinking-support tools that are available. Overall, these tools do several useful and important things:
What thinking support tools don't do is think for you. These are support tools, not substitutes for human analysis, synthesis, insight and intuition. They do provide an effective "force multiplier" for those human attributes, allowing you to look further, faster and with more confidence than you could do unaided. Happy thinking!
John Parkinson has been a business and technology consultant for more than 20 years.
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