Which comes first: innovation or analytics?
Bain & Company released some survey findings a few months back that actually put a value on big data. Companies with advanced analytic capabilities, the consultancy finds, are twice as likely to be in the top quartile of financial performance within their industries; five times as likely to make decisions much faster than market peers; three times as likely to execute decisions as intended; and twice as likely to use data very frequently when making decisions.
This is all good stuff, and the survey, which covered the input of 400 executives, makes a direct correlation between big data analytics efforts and the business’s bottom line. However, it begs a question: How does an organization become one of these analytic leaders? And there’s a more brain-twisting question to this as well: would the type of organization supporting an advanced analytics culture be more likely to be ahead of its competitors because its management tends to be more forward-thinking on a lot of fronts, and not just big data?
You just can’t throw a big data or analytics program or solution set on top of the organization (or drop in a data scientist) and expect to be dazzled with sudden clarity and insight. If an organization is dysfunctional, with a lot of silos, fiefdoms, or calcified and uninspired management, all the big data in the world isn’t going to lift its intelligence quota.
The author of the Bain and Company study, Travis Pearson and Rasmus Wegener, point out that “big data isn’t just one more technology initiative” – “in fact, it isn’t a technology initiative at all; it’s a business program that requires technical savvy.”
Succeeding with big data analytics requires a change in the organization’s culture, and the way it approaches problems and opportunities. The enterprise needs to be open to innovation and change. And, as Pearson and Wegener point out, “you need to embed big data deeply into your organization. It’s the only way to ensure that information and insights are shared across business units and functions. This also guarantees the entire company recognizes the synergies and scale benefits that a well-conceived analytics capability can provide.”
Pearson and Wegener also point to the following common characteristics of big data leaders they have studied:
Pick the “right angle of entry”: There are many areas of the business that can benefit from big data analytics, but just a few key areas that will really impact the business. It’s important to focus big data efforts on the right things. Pearson and Wegener say there are four areas where analytics can be relevant: “improving existing products and services, improving internal processes, building new product or service offerings, and transforming business models.”
Communicate big data ambition: Make it clear that big data analytics is a strategy that has the full commitment of management, and it’s a key part of the organization’s strategy. Messages that need to be communicated: “We will embrace big data as a new way of doing business. We will incorporate advanced analytics and insights as key elements of all critical decisions.” And, the co-authors add, “the senior team must also answer the question: To what end? How is big data going to improve our performance as a business? What will the company focus on?”
Sell and evangelize: Selling big data is a long-term process, not just one or two announcements at staff meetings. “Organizations don’t change easily and the value of analytics may not be apparent to everyone, so senior leaders may have to make the case for big data in one venue after another,” the authors caution. Big data leaders, they observe, have learned to take advantage of the tools at their disposal: they “define clear owners and sponsors for analytics initiatives. They provide incentives for analytics-driven behavior, thereby ensuring that data is incorporated into processes for making key decisions. They create targets for operational or financial improvements. They work hard to trace the causal impact of big data on the achievement of these targets.”
Find an organizational “home” for big data analysis: A common trend seen among big data leaders is that they have created an organizational home for their advanced analytics capability, “often a Center of Excellence overseen by a chief analytics officer,” according to Pearson and Wegener. This is where matters such as strategy, collection and ownership of data across business functions come into play. Organizations also need to plan how to generate insights, and prioritize opportunities and allocation of data analysts’ scientists’ time.
There is a hope and perception that adopting data analytics will open up new paths to innovation. But it often takes a innovative spirit to open up analytics.