Bernard Marr on "Big Data"

08 October 2013 -


The founder and CEO of the Advanced Performance Institute on why it’s time for leaders to wise up about managing information

Matt Packer

‘Just the facts, please… just the facts.’

It’s a phrase well known to readers of hard-boiled detective fiction, but should be even more of a motto among leaders, according to Bernard Marr – founder and CEO of the Advanced Performance Institute.

In Bernard’s view, it is only when we are in full possession of the most relevant facts that we can make sound decisions, and to that end his firm takes the methodology behind academic research and applies it to the practicalities of management.

Bernard spoke in depth about his ideas at the CMI National Management and Leadership Conference on Thursday 10 October 2013.

What does Advanced Performance Institute do?

We help to improve the performance of companies and governments by providing advice, facilitation and training in the area of strategic business-performance management, as well as in the use of KPIs and data to inform fact-based decision making. Most organisations struggle with the execution of their strategies, and most collect and report data on everything that walks and moves – but very little that actually matters. Our clients end up with crystal-clear strategies, completely focused metrics and a culture where decisions are made based upon the best available facts.

What is your professional background and how did it lead you to start your own company?

I worked in several different companies and consulting organisations before I joined Cambridge University as an academic. My focus has always been the practical application of the latest business and technology knowledge, which is why my career path took me to Cranfield School of Management. There, I found a great balance between the worlds of practical consulting work, leading-edge academic research and engaging executive coaching. Eventually, my entrepreneurial side lured me into starting The Advanced Performance Institute. I have never looked back, and every day feels like a massive privilege working with many of the best-known companies on the planet.

Tell us about the topic you spoke about at the conference, and why you think it’s important

I talked about Big Data, which is one of the mega-buzzwords of our times. The gist of it is that we are now generating more data than ever before (at frightening rates, actually), and that we now have new technology and techniques that allow us to extract insights from this data.  This will not only transform the way we do business, but also most other parts of society. Big Data is already helping organisations to optimise their businesses, understand their customers more deeply, make accurate predictions, improve security, foil terrorist attacks, decode DNA in minutes and find the next cures for cancer. Big Data will change all our lives, and in my talk I will outline how we can use it well to answer our most critical business questions.

What single legislative change would you bring in to make managers’ lives easier?

Having less legislation and more common sense.

What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to be a business leader?

For me there are 3 things a good business leader needs to do:

1. Visualise success

Not just for themselves, but for others around them. A business leader needs to paint a clear picture of where they want to take the business and ensure everyone shares that understanding. The most important role of any leader is to communicate what success will look like and take everyone on the journey.

2. Monitor progress

This is to ensure that the business is on track and not veering off a prosperous path. Leaders need to ensure they are aware of their environment and where their business sits in the overall context of the market and competition.

3. Improve the future

Leaders need to create a culture where improving the future is the main objective. They have to create an environment where they eradicate blame culture and backwards-looking performance reviews and instead focus on identifying shortcomings and doing something about them.

Who inspires you to achieve and why?

My three children – every day they show me how exciting life can be, and they all share this intense curiosity about the future. They are also a constant reminder of the need to improve our future and make our world better and more sustainable, in every sense.

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