Not too long ago, benchmarking anything was a major undertaking. Consultants and/or host companies would take us down a long and painful road of data collection, validation, workshops, and reports, all of which would ultimately lead to a voluminous reports that probably still serve as “ornaments” on your bookshelf. Clearly, a painful process that often led to frustrated participants and meaningless information.
Well, now that we have all these great new technologies to help us with benchmarking, those times are gone, right? Wrong. Despite numerous advances in both approach and technology, benchmarking still leaves a lot to be desired. Why?
Not unlike many of our business processes, benchmarking suffers from our tendency to focus on activities rather than business outcomes. We spend lots of time and money automating legacy processes, instead of truly rethinking how our process SHOULD work. The same is true with technologies that should, but don’t enable us to do better benchmarking. There are clearly no shortage of benchmarking technologies that companies can use to acquire and report benchmarking data. But are these systems actually producing valuable information?
In my humble but vocal opinion, today’s benchmarking technologies suffer from major weaknesses in EVERY stage of the benchmarking process:
1. Survey Design and Administration– most consultants and facilitators have put ALL their emphasis on the survey process. Poor prioritization, in my view. Sure, the survey is the most obvious process to try and automate. Since most data collection started as a manual process, it would only make sense to try and streamline it. What’s wrong with that view? Nothing really, except for the fact that most data collection PROCESSES lack both the strength and sophistication that are key in a good benchmarking program. So what we end up doing, in essence, is automating a pretty crappy process.
For example, the internet now allows us to collect data online. Big Whup!!! If that’s all that you expect of your technology, than you’ve got bigger problems with your process. Data collection is the foundation of your whole benchmarking program. Many things are (or at least should be) accomplished in the data collection process. Putting data on a survey is only one of them.
Distributed data entry, error checking, aggregation, internal vetting, boundary testing (against specific definitions), external validation, and range checking, are among the many other functions performed at this stage in the process. If the OUTCOME of data collection is QUALITY information, collected with the LEAST PAIN, in the FASTEST CYCLE TIME possible- then simply automating your old excel spreadsheets has done nothing but administer your current process via the internet. It’s just another route to the same old destination. Nothing more.
Technology today, allows us to do SO MUCH more. Good benchmarking applications will address ALL of the components of your data gathering process, automate many of them, and turn your process into something that is better, faster, cheaper and less painful than your existing one. That’s the true test for any benchmarking technology.
2. Results Presentation– This one is very connected with data collection. If your technology addresses all of the major aspects of data gathering, then you should only be one or two quick steps away from seeing your results. So why does your facilitator need weeks or months to deliver your results?
a)- because your facilitator’s technology didn’t likely deal with data collection the way it could, or should have. Validation didn’t occur at the point of entry, did it? Data still had to go to the facilitator for aggregation, didn’t it? Some definitions were misinterpreted, weren’t they? All of this adds layers of cycle time to your process. The fact that your data was transferred over the internet bought you nothing in terms of being able to use it any better or faster that you would have before.
and b), because your facilitator ONLY focused on the data collection process to begin with. Today’s technologies allow for your data to become instantly part of a relational database that can be easily queried and manipulated. More importantly, the internet allows for that querying to be done in a distributed manner. Which brings me to the main benefit in the reporting process- CUSTOMIZATION!
So, here we have two more requirements for a good benchmarking technology. ON DEMAND reporting (i.e.- instantly upon data submittal), and CUSTOMIZATION (i.e.- you define the form and function of how you view the results). Suddenly, on demand filtering of the peer group, “what if ” and scenario testing, and many other possibilities begin to emerge. Does your benchmarking software do that?
3. Best Practice Sharing– This is one of the big gaps in today’s benchmarking technologies. The tragedy of this one however, is that it is not simply an oversight. IT’S DELIBERATE. That’s right. Benchmarking facilitators make their money by being the information broker, a service that was necessary 10 years ago. But today, they avoid these technologies because it moves them out of the loop, or at minimum changes their role. And change is not a nice word to these types of folks. Turf protection, protecting their job through retirement, etc.. become the real motivators. And who pays for that? YOU DO. The technology exists to make learning and best practice sharing a CONTINUOUS part of our day to day jobs, not a once a year event that puts your benchmarking process at the mercy of when he or she wants to call a conference.
Don’t get me wrong, conferences are fun, especially when combined with little boondoggles like baseball games and trips to the big city. But when they are used to disguise the obstructionist role of data broker is when I call foul. A good facilitator will provide the technology to facilitate on demand peer to peer sharing and surveying. If they don’t, you’re better off finding a new source for your benchmarking information.
As you can tell, this is a subject that I feel strongly about. When I see technology that is avoided because an individual or organization wants to slow down or limit change, it infuriates me. I see it too much, and its about time it changed. I encourage all of you to exert all the pressure you can to get your providers to use your fees, or collective effort , to FULLY employ these technologies instead of using YOUR resources to protect their little patch of turf. Sure, it will create less dependency on them for benchmarking, but if they play their cards right, it will result in a stronger relationship bond and a higher degree of business trust and integrity.
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Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org