Friday, June 12, 2009

Too much data, too little information

So, you have this big 1000 user system, with its flows and checkpoints and flags and pointers. If you've grown it well you have a dashboard showing you login numbers, counts of transactions, dollars moving around. You control it all from your NOC, pressing the little red buttons whenever necessary, moving dials and reading graphs. But the thing is, that seeing the bits and pieces of online life on your screen doesn't necessarily, and sometimes doesn't at all, help understand what's going on.

What IS going on in your system? What are users doing, and will that translate into the bottom
line? What can the numbers tell you?

Well, we've been through a few ideas. Experts knowledge ties symptomatic indicators with identities and with what they intend to do, so that you can at least start making sense. Collecting the data is one aspect, and using it to understand is a whole new area. When we reach tips and tricks on how to develop your own methodology, some of this might start ringing a bell. But this post is about one system that shouldn’t be adopted as your main tool if you’re the risk management expert – it’s about advising you to not count on hindsight based on business results.

No, no, don’t get me wrong – business results are important, one of the most important aspects of the business (and some will argue – the single most important – but that is another discussion). But using the bottom line (or even a highly detailed version of it, including a drill down of, for example, every auth rejection code) to indicate what the risks are in the system or worse yet – to indicate what needs to be fixed – is a call for bad judgment. Consider my favorite example, a hospital. If you needed to weigh two hospitals one against another, would you use the percentage of deceased patients as an indicator? Would it matter that one has an oncology department and the other doesn’t? Would it matter that one is in Mozambique and the other is in Mexico? Of course it would, since when all else is equal (in staff, training and tools – like your company compared to other retailers), fraud-on-entry (the hospitals’ location and the indigenous diseases you’d expect) and fraud MOs (the types of diseases that are actually seen and treated or not treated) have a big impact on the bottom line. Trying to use the numbers post risk controls, chargeback, CHB dispute and collections to understand what could have happened is trying to pin down a moving target – and the wrong one at that. Worse of all would be trying to design future systems based on the current snapshot, since you do not have any indication of what users do – just how much money it costs you, and user behavior is much more volatile than your incoming chargeback count.

When you come to understand what’s going on, business results are highly important. But letting them steer all of your team from looking at user behaviors will put you exactly where you don’t want to be – patching up holes in your system using a highly delayed hindsight mode. To be successful, combining data analysis and behavioral research is a must.

No comments: