The Thin Layer: Why less is more…

More complicated doesn’t necessarily mean better

Today we have more data than yesterday. This is simple fact and the trend is only accelerating. Facebook alone adds more than 500TB of data every day, including more than 300 million new photos. Many Fortune 500 hundred companies employ thousands of servers with technology companies like Akamai, which is reputed to have more than 100,000 servers. As executives, the world has also become more data intensive with a distinct trend towards data oriented decision-making. I am a big believer in this trend and absolutely applaud the move towards a data centric approach to decision making. However, somewhere along the way a few important things got missed and most executives became overwhelmed by data rather than aided by it. The mad rush to back decisions with data led to the implementation of reports, dashboards, and other analytics without much thought as to what went into them. Where the data came from, its quality, and value became afterthoughts. In the end, many executives were not much better off then when they started.

This is exactly why I believe in the power of “The Thin Layer.” Whether it is architecture, engineering or business data—there is only so much we as humans can process. Gathering more than that is simply not worthwhile and worse, it can lead to poor decision-making because of a lack of focus on the components that are truly important. For most executives, there is a thin layer of information that truly makes a difference in their decision-making and that it is worth taking the time to distill this information into analytic components that can be routinely re-built and help you to standardize your decision making process. There are a lot of factors that may be involved in developing The Thin Layer required to support your decision-making including data quality, refresh times, authoritative sources, etc. However, at the end of the day a successful decision support system should not be just by the number of data sources, reports, or size of the source database. It should be judged on the value it provides in supporting decision-making. If you absolutely must think of it as a metric or ratio, try the following equation:

Value to business

Cost to Develop & Maintain

As someone who loves developing analytics and reports, I know the temptation to show something because you can or because you have the data. Why use a table when you can have a spider chart? It takes all of my self control sometimes to reduce things down to just what I need for the decision. I’ve found from years of experience that in the long run, more data often will simply cloud the picture and increase the size of the haystack. You may need to go back and pull more data for specific decisions, or revisit the minimalist approach and add data over time; but by starting with less, I think you’ll find over time that you are able to make better decisions faster. It is also much cheaper to maintain.

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