The Power of Human Intelligence via Experience Management

As Picasso once said: “Computers are useless: they can only give you answers!”.

Success in business isn’t about answering questions, it’s about asking the right questions in the first place. Or to put it another way: the most important thing in business is… knowing what’s important!

Thankfully, that’s an area where artificial intelligence cannot and will not ever rival human intelligence. Business people are too often treated as passive “users” of technology. But in fact they are by far the most important “technology” in the enterprise, and this technology is not being fully leveraged – because it’s hard to do so!

Every time people interact with processes and information processes, they add valuable insights. But all too often in today’s organizations, those insights are simply being wasted,

Only humans can understand the full context of what’s not working well in business processes and functions, and have relevant suggestions on how they could be improved. But because human-generated information is hard to gather, aggregate, manipulate, and analyse, it’s typically not considered part of traditional information architectures.

Organizations have, of course, paid close attention to things like customer and employee feedback for a long time, but people’s emotions, expectations, and insights are very different from the structured information that today’s systems are optimized for. This means that gathering experience information has generally been manual, limited, and episodic.

Experience data is currently like the “dark matter” of the Universe. We can’t see it directly, but we know it’s there because it has huge effects and consequences that we can’t otherwise explain. In business we know that human experiences are an absolutely essential part of any kind of business or technology innovation; but we have been sorely lacking in tools to observe it directly.

Now, for the first time, new experience management platforms can harness these human insights at scale—gathering the right information, from the right people, at the right time. With the right tools, this information holds out the possibility of improving “every experience that matters”.

Experience management can help spot and correct problems in real time, not only to improve customer and employee satisfaction, but also in less glamorous areas like IT, finance, logistics, or analytics.

For example, the IT press regularly profiles the rollout of large business application upgrades that have spectacularly failed. Although the software vendors’ names often feature in the headline, the real problem is almost never the technology itself, as proved by the many successful projects using the same system at other organizations.

The problem, ultimately, is people—or rather the complex interaction of technology, organizations, culture, and incentives that has sometimes been referred to as the Devil’s Triangle. One thing these problematic projects share is that the scope of the disaster is typically a “surprise”. Yet I guarantee there were many, many people associated with that project who knew exactly how and why it was failing, and what should be done differently—and their opinions, feedback, and advice were consistently ignored.

Imagine if the project dashboard had included experience management data, taken consistently by everybody touched by the project, and that this data was considered a vital part of the overall progress? While there’s never going to be an easy technology fix for bad human behavior, transparency can be a powerful tool. I guarantee the dashboard would have been glowing red long before anybody “realized” there was a problem. Traditional KPIs such as “percentage of project realized” can be easily manipulated—but anonymous surveys of people much less so, and it would have been harder for managers and executives to avoid the issues.

And experience management could be a revelation in many other areas of the organization. For example, the quality of business analytics has been a constant source of frustration in organizations for decades, and the core problem has always been related to information culture, incentives, and organization rather than the tools themselves. And badly-implemented internal systems such as invoice tracking, expenses or budgeting that result in thousands of hours of wasteful work for high-paid employees might get corrected faster, with huge benefits for the company as a whole.

Experience management becomes even more important as AI looms. It frees highly-qualified people from wasting time on the kinds of complex repetitive decisions that can now be automated with machine learning.. This gives executives more time to work on strategy and business innovation.

But innovation isn’t a mechanical process that can be carried out by machines, no matter how sophisticated. It requires context, hypotheses, investigations, trial and error, successes and failures. Traditional IT tools are utterly unadapted to optimize the process of innovation.

Instead, it’s time to build information systems designed to optimize the power of human intelligence, allowing human experience data to take its rightful place as a core part of the overall data foundation of the organization.