Leaders charged with generating insight and innovation using analytics have many challenges to confront. Here are some of the ones that I’ve had to puzzle through.
by Eric Duell, Founder and Executive Advisor, Envizion.Info
As both a consultant and corporate leader, my role for the past decade has been to figure out how to transform data into insights that generate revenue and competitive advantage. Here are two things I’ve learned: it can be a scary proposition, and when I first started, there was no roadmap on how to do the job. I suspect that for many newly minted and aspiring analytics leaders the same is true for them too.
There are legions of research firms that offer trends, analytics courses that teach cutting-edge techniques and an endless number of people knocking at the door with sophisticated new tools. But none of these resources could answer the questions that were keeping me up at night. Why is that?
It’s because the problems I was worried about had nothing to do with analytics. They were more fundamental. They were about how to run a business whose product is data and insights: a product where answers aren’t always clear cut, getting to results requires challenging conventions and changing how people think, and for which there was no existing organizational template to follow.
Here are some of the big questions that I've had to face, each offering their own unique challenge. I offer them up so that you can tackle them head-on as you lead transformation in your own organization:
What is my analytics leadership philosophy?
My view on analytics and insights is that it should be positioned as a partner and leader alongside other key business organizations. Accordingly, it needs to be just as invested and integral to driving success as the product, marketing, technology and sales teams.
Analytics should also lead and influence the organization in a proactive way. An end-of-year “just tell us what you need and we’ll put it in the budget request” meeting doesn’t cut it. Engagement requires an ongoing commitment with senior leaders where you can say, “You know that problem you’re having? Let me show you how we could help solve it, and how that leads to a stronger business.”
Questions to consider in your organization: What’s the best way to build trust and credibility with senior leaders and influencers? While every work culture is unique, building relationships through trust, demonstrated performance and the ability to anticipate needs before they’re even stated will serve you well.
What’s the right operating model for our organization?
When standing up (or evolving) your team you’ll have to decide whether you want to centralize your key functions or embed resources within each function you serve. “Centers of excellence” are common but matrix-managed teams also find success in many company cultures.
Questions to consider in your organization: What do you want your working relationship to be with your internal customers, and where does accountability for results sit? Saying that everyone is responsible can be used to avoid risk and accountability – but as the analytics leader, the reality is that you’re on the hook, so establish clear rules of engagement up front.
How should we set priorities?
How many times have you heard “let’s go after the low hanging fruit” or “we need to invest strategically?” Probably enough to fill up several notebooks with stories about how the initiatives that followed turned out. But figuring out how to set priorities is no joke, and depending on the work environment, this can have a big impact on what you achieve and how your team’s success is perceived.
Questions to consider in your organization: What are the tradeoffs that come with each approach? For example, if you choose to pick a lot of the low-hanging fruit, do you actually change the fundamentals of the business? Or if you focus on projects that are strategic but take a lot of time and resources, do you inadvertently run out the clock on patience and the willingness to invest?
How do we measure success in a way that is clear and credible?
This is one of the big challenges with launching and leading an analytics team. Measuring success in a way that your senior leadership trusts and finds credible can be difficult, especially when a program operates within complex market conditions or a culture that is not data-oriented. Was it the analytics initiative or the new sales incentive that made the difference? Figure out how to answer this up front to avoid uncertainty and doubt when the results are in. You also will need to know the business value of the results, to back up why investments of time and resources are worth it.
Questions to consider in your organization: What metrics does the business use to measure its own success? Are other parties required to take action, or will organizational dependencies ultimately determine whether the initiative is successful? Is there a “neutral party” in the organization that can credibly measure the result without a vested interest in the outcome?
Whether you are a CMO, chief data officer, vice president of analytics or in a similar role tapped with leading change through data and insights, these are just a few of the many questions that you will encounter.
By answering them up front you will lay a stronger foundation for your team’s future.
The path from data to insights is rarely a straight line. Here are a few tips to help your organization from getting derailed on those first projects.
by Eric Duell, Founder and Executive Advisor, Envizion.Info
Business transformation is enabled when your people can easily engage with your data, ask questions, find answers and ultimately generate insights and recommendations that help you evolve. Deciding that you want your organization to be more data-driven is the easy part - getting there is hard work, and in my experience, never a straight line from start to finish.
Transforming data into strategic advantage is a non-linear and upending journey. Put another way, turning data into insight is a creative activity – driven by curiosity and a thirst to learn and understand. In nearly every case, what you end up with as the best solution is not where you thought you were going at the start.
Why does this happen? You have databases - you likely have technical talent on staff - you may even have tools like Tableau that help you visualize and explore your data. Isn't that all you need?
The answer is no, because humans are involved in both the generation and the consumption of your data. When you start getting into it, you're likely to find:
There's a commonly shared notion that up to 80% of an analyst's time is spent just getting data ready to analyze. Think about that - most of the effort is spent just getting to the point where you can actually start developing insights.
So as a data leader, what can you do to set your team up for success?
Keeping these points in mind will help you stay on track and reduce you time from data to strategic advantage!