Journey to Analytics Transformation is a Marathon, not a Sprint
Abdul September 11, 2014
The environment today in which organizations across the globe operate in continues to grow more complex with every passing second. With innumerable choices to make, relentless pressure to deliver consistently in a time bound manner and rationalizing profit margins, the decision-making process becomes yet more daunting and convoluted. Unarguably, Analytics consistently delivers significant value – from strategic to tactical, managing top-line to bottom-line – to the organizations and business executives who use it. But senior leaders are still grappling with the question whether they are truly harnessing the fullest value from the massive amounts of data at their disposal; “dark data” sitting within their organizations in silos. Advent of newer technologies are making data collection faster than ever before, and it may seem like an overwhelming task to turn data into insights and answers that drive the strategic imperative. Storage & computational capacities have grown by leaps and bounds, opening up doors to intelligent decision-making for varied business stakeholders, yet many organizations are still looking for better ways to obtain value from their data and compete more effectively in the marketplace. The fundamental question about how best to achieve value still boggles most of the leaders.
Is competition equipped to obtain more incisive, timely and valuable insights? Are they catching the pulse of the global economy, the marketplace, the customers & the industry much better than what we do? Do they have better foresight to unravel what happened and why it happened in the past, and are they in a much better shape to decipher their current and future state to take actions closely aligned to market realities for optimal results? What do these analytically mature organizations do differently and what sets them apart from the crowd? Have we gotten our approach and data strategy right? Have we empowered our workforce enough to effectively leverage our Analytics insights? Has it seeped in appropriately to all the downstream decision makers? Plentiful questions abound and more often than not these perennial doubts do keep bothering the senior leadership, “are we doing it the right way”?
And not so astonishingly, most of the well thought through Analytics initiatives and robust Analytics transformation journeys go for a complete toss or fail to deliver value. From lack of senior leadership buy-in to Analytics value, advanced analytics applications not being put to best of their use, or a proliferation of analytics applications that fail to deliver a unified, solid strategic direction, many companies are falling short of the value analytics can provide. No wonder leaders end up losing patience and Analytics remains to be an elusive concept to most, putting up barriers to widespread Analytics adoption at the very beginning itself. Consequently, the shutters are pulled down much before the Analytics champions get a chance to showcase even marginal business impact. All the tall claims mutually agreed upon just end up being farfetched dreams !
When businesses venture into the Analytics space and think about transforming their organization into an Analytics think tank, it’s no easy ask. The way expectations are set initially, that analytics-driven insights to be consumed in a manner that triggers new actions across the organization, they must be closely linked to business strategy, easy for end-users to understand and embedded into organizational processes so that action can be taken at the right time. Now just mulling over what I just mentioned here, it’s a mammoth task in itself with too many ifs and buts. Just imagine the complexity we are dealing with. Let’s quickly take a high-level perspective of what kind of challenges do most organizations stumble upon, and understand the critical ingredients to a perfect Analytics recipe are:
- Right problem statement where analytics could have a strong play
- Right Data to begin with
- A strong team of Analytics professionals (Data Cleansers, Data Visualizers, Modelers etc) with a right blend of skill sets
- Senior leadership buy-in and requisite budgets
- Clearing other internal toll gates
- Program review framework to track progress & suggest realignment
- And the biggest of them all, a drastic shift in the mindsets of business users consuming these insights, how to make the transition process seamless
Aforementioned list is just a flavor of typical roadblocks your Analytics initiative could run up against and I haven’t even gotten into the finer details of spending wasteful time on Analytics tools/techniques which may not fit the bill. In a nutshell, the pitfalls are too many and as advocates of Analytics, it’s imperative for us to convey the same picture to the right set of business stakeholders in the organization that Analytics may take time to deliver value. And the wait could get even longer if a structured and methodical approach is not followed here. Undoubtedly, it requires painstaking focus on the way insights are infused into everything from manufacturing and new product development to credit approvals and call center interactions.
So what truly makes certain companies so successful with analytics initiatives while others fail to get the results they are looking for? Analytically mature organizations approach business operations very differently than their peers do. Disproportionately analytic leaders are having management support and mandate for analytics throughout the organization, including top-down diktat for analytics, sponsors and champions; they are open to breeding change and accept new ideas; having a focused approach to customer experience driven by analytics; and heavily use analytics to identify and address strategic threats to the organization. On a specific note, they deploy analytics across widest range of decisions, be it large or small. There’s a high correlation between organizational performance and analytics-driven management, and Analytics forms the key to all performance related aspects, be it seeking growth, efficiency or competitive differentiation.
The path to realizing value out your Analytics efforts and investments is a long-drawn process. But still, how can organizations bring down the time-to-value for analytics? How can you avoid common pitfalls which may derail the Analytics intent your organization set out with? Analytics value creation can be achieved during the initial budding phases on the path to analytics sophistication. Contrarian to common assumptions here, it doesn’t require the presence of perfect data or a full-scale organizational transformation and small pilots to convey value should suffice. After initial successes, snowballing effect shall come to rescue.
Does targeting the biggest challenge of all imply setting stage for big failures? Not always! Remember higher stakes command top management attention, appropriate investment, attracts best of the breed talent and incite action. Hence, focusing on the biggest and highest-value opportunities may not be that bad an idea. Don’t pick insurmountable problems though and ensure focus on achievable steps.
Framing the Right Questions
More often than not organizations are tempted to start the data assimilation process, way before they kick-start their analysis. A lot of valuable time & effort is spent in aggregating this data across various departmental silos, cleansing, harmonization, conversion etc. leaving little time for actually thinking through the intent of analyzing the data, and uncovering potential uses. To get optimal results, the idea should be start carving out the insights and questions which need to be answered to meet the bigger business objective rather than jumping on getting the data pieces together. Such an exercise at times can illuminate gaps in the existing data infrastructure and business-as-usual processes. Data-first strategy could mean lot of unintended rework, approaching a dead end towards the later stages and may be budget overruns in case additional resources are to be pooled in.
Easing out Information Consumption
In the end, the consumers of insights are the business users. In that case, the Analytics team may have to don the hat of a business stakeholder and be able to represent information in a meaningful way which sees direct applicability to their audience. Ability to convey the story in effective manner, figuring out better ways to communicate complex insights is crucial so that users can quickly absorb the meaning of the data and take appropriate actions. Leveraging numerous visualization and reporting tools can simplify insights, make results more comprehensible & easier to act upon. They can transform numbers into information and insights that can be readily put to use, versus having to rely on ambiguous interpretations or leaving them unused due to uncertainty about how to act.
Embedding insights at the right touch points & delivering value
With the proliferation of analytics applications and tools, embedding information into existing business processes, workflows etc is a lot more streamlined. For e.g. insights from your location analytics tools can easily be superimposed over existing maps-based applications deployed at the Salesforce level to help them plan out their routes optimally. Oil exploration companies can easily embed the production or pipeline information into their existing enterprise-level systems for informed decision-making around the next best drilling site. Such innovative ways have to be through to make consumption of complex Analytics insights a lot easier across the organization. Point to note here is that, putting together a new system for consuming Analytics insights could mean a drastic cultural shift for the business users, and high resistance to change in such cases could lead to failures. If somehow these insights could be seamlessly infused into existing apps/tools or processes would mean smoother transitioning & better outcomes due to increased adherence.
Slow & Steady Scale-up
As the business mature on the analytics front over time, data-driven decision making slowly starts spreading its wings across the organization. And as the Analytics experience and usage grows, the value analytics can deliver grows multi-folds, enabling business benefits to accrue much faster than originally imagined. Not all functions/LOB’s/departments are at an equipotential when it comes to Analytics maturity. Business functions like finance and supply chain are inherently data intensive and are often where analytics first makes its mark. Harping on the early successes, organizations can begin expanding analytics reach to other units. Crafting reusable assets which could be repurposed, with slight modifications by other units could speed up the transformation process.
Crafting a Data Agenda
Dealing with disparate sources of information, sitting in silos across the organization, in varying formats & structures, and churning out divergent insights can be a daunting task and also convey a highly convoluted, incomprehensible picture at times. The data agenda should provide a high-level roadmap that aligns business needs to growth in analytics sophistication as the organization matures along the way. It should be flexible enough to keep pace with the changing business priorities and must have clearly stated guidelines or frameworks to aid transforming data into a strategic asset; data which is integrated, consistent and dependable enough. Data quality & effective governance processes can be set up to ensure seamless assimilation and healthiness of data being put to greater use. Even though, you tread down the analytics path with the biggest organizational challenge, start putting the data pieces together which deliver insights & get you closer to the actual solution, but then how this data foundation crafted aligns with the overall data agenda is crucial. Comprehensiveness of the data agenda builds up the requisite momentum to deliver meaningful nuggets of information across disparate systems organization-wide. Eventually the data agenda is at the very core of any analytics initiative, ensuring the “right piece of information” reaches out to the “right stakeholders”, with the “right set of business priorities” at the “right time”.
To expedite the process to path to value, start by identifying big business issues which would garner the right management attention and resources for execution, carefully cherry-pick challenges for which you see Analytics as the key enabler, taking into account the foreseeable changes in the operating ecosystem as you go along. Riding on assets capabilities already inherent to the organization, the core strengths, is the key and creating reusable components can help scale up fast to increase reach. And the most important of all, keep embedding insights generated at every step into existing business processes to deliver continuous business impact and monitor change.