At some point in the next few years my wife and I have a big decision to make. When we set up our guest house business here in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland we targeted well-heeled empty-nesters and the active retired. Currently these folk keep our occupancy rates really high, but as this audience ages, I question whether those that replace them will enjoy the same level of disposable income and generous final-salary, index-linked pensions that will allow so many of them to visit what is a fairly expensive holiday destination.
We’ve got a few choices – sell up and retire ourselves or re-position our business to a new market – and time isn’t really a pressing as we’ve got a few years before these demographic changes begin to bite. The critical thing about this strategic decision is that we keep reviewing all the factors involved such as tourism trends, property values, our job satisfaction and our health – and eventually make a decision that is right for us. Most strategic decisions in business are like this. They are not that reliant on vast amounts of quantitative data; there is usually a generous amount of time available – and it’s really important to get it right! There are some infamous basket cases such as Kodak and Polaroid who got it woefully wrong by choosing not to adapt to changing technology and others such as Microsoft who appear to be suffering after taking way too long to make important strategic decisions.
The availability of in-memory computing, such as SAP HANA, might encourage business to make even more rapid decisions, going from analysis to action at the speed of thought. This is something author Malcolm Gladwell advocated in his best-selling book ‘Blink’, and it clearly makes sense for highly repetitive tactical decisions such as encountered in customer interactions and supply chain where there is typically very few seconds in which to make the decision and take action. But there is a growing body of evidence reported in books such as Frank Partnoy’s ‘Wait; the Useful Art of Procrastination’ that suggests that the most effective managers are those that resist making snap decisions. These managers are adept at assessing what window of time is available for decision making and making most use of it for formal and informal strategizing, always trying to avoid committing to a final decision to the last possible moment, be it quarter end reporting or signing off on an annual budget.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating slowness here – that’s something that anyone who has worked alongside me knows aggravates the hell out of me. I’m talking about procrastination with a purpose, It seems to me that the ultra-fast power of in-memory computing really helps here because even when we are under time pressure we can still access the very latest data in nano-seconds allowing us to make maximum use of the time before having to decide. For instance Partnoy gives the example of accident and emergency doctors working in life and death situations in casualty units who are always taught that if you have one minute to do something, you should not make judgement until 59 seconds has passed.
Companies such as the McLaren Formula 1 racing team are all too aware of the benefits that procrastination can bring and have already maximized their decision making window by using SAP HANA to turbocharge both the speed and depth of their telemetry technology which monitors data generated by sensors in the cars during the race. On most Grand Prix circuits, the team has just about a minute during each lap in which it must decide whether to call a driver into the pits for refuelling or a change of tyres and everything they can do to extend that window by a few seconds gives them an advantage over their competitors.
It seems to me that with SAP HANA, the saying that ‘Procrastination is the thief of time’ no longer holds true. As long as you keep your eye on the deadline, adopting in memory computing can extend the window of time available and help you make better – rather than simply faster – decisions. And ultimately that’s what we’re paid for.