TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

The Biggest Questions in Analytics: Q&A with Jill Dyché

What's the best way to take analytics to your entire enterprise? We offer an expert's advice about scaling your analytics.

I’ll admit it. At first I was a little nervous about curating a question and answer column for the new (and very exciting!) website, Upside.com. After all, who am I -- showing up for my dental appointment on the wrong day, skipping lunch then scrounging the bottom of my backpack for a stale Kit-Kat bar, and forgetting about the bottle of Pinot in my carry-on -- to sling advice?

Then I realized what a cakewalk it would be. I could trim my cuticles in the time it would take to answer a few reader questions (if I ever remembered to trim my cuticles). Why? Because I’ve been asked these questions in real life, as a thought leader for a software vendor, and before that as a co-founder of a boutique consultancy that specialized in analytics and data strategy, and before that as a thought leader for a software vendor. You get the idea. I’ve seen a few things.

I figured I’d launch the column by highlighting some of my discussions with analytics and data teams. Questions have come from retailers with shoppers, health care providers with patients, and government organizations with constituents. They apply to commercial companies and non-profits. They’re evergreen. Maybe they’re relevant to your company, too!

Here’s a good one:

Dear Jill,

How do we take analytics to the enterprise at my company? We have “pockets of analytics” everywhere at my company, but nothing is scaling. There’s no continuity. No one listens when I bring this up!

-- Crazy in Columbus?

Crazy, I call this “Random Acts of Analytics,” and -- kudos, Crazy! -- it happens more than most people admit. My answer to your question is, predictably, another question, namely: What problem would bringing analytics to your enterprise solve?

Maybe your answer is, “I don’t know but no one speaks the same language around here.” Then I would ask if that’s not really a cultural norm at your workplace that’s bigger than analytics. (This is also known as the “You and what army?” response.)

Maybe your answer is, “Well, it would drive economies of scale that would lower our costs, remedy report-glut, refine planning processes, bake analytics into new programs, and drive consensus on authoritative data to unify decision-making with consistent metrics. We could negotiate tighter vendor contracts, discover redundant work efforts, and stop overinvesting.”

If that’s your answer, then collect evidence of three things:

  1. A duplicate report
  2. An overlapping job function
  3. A redundant platform

Quantify the cost of each. Add them up. Then take your findings to an executive interested in cost-cutting opportunities. (Hint: these execs outnumber those interested in generating revenue at your company, which is crazy indeed!). The executive will be interested and help you proselytize some needed change. Then I would shout a hearty “Hoo-RAY!” and bless you both on your path to analytics program transformation, but not before I reminded you that culture eats strategy for breakfast (I think Peter Drucker said that).

In other words, if it won’t work in your culture, don’t do it. Some companies thrive on efficient and centralized systems -- and I don’t just mean computer systems. Others (I’d venture the majority) are fine with federation. Federated organizational structures beget federated systems, federated business processes, and federated data. That might be just fine. Forewarned is forearmed (I think George S. Patton said that).

See how easy that was? That’s because I already gave that answer to the original questioner after carefully considering my response for weeks. This time it took me five minutes. In fact, I typed it while trimming my cuticles!

I now herewith invite you to submit a question. Email me a head-scratcher about analytics, data management, organizational issues, or culture at Jill@Upside.com. We really and truly sympathize if you can’t self-identify, and we’ll love you just the same.

About the Author

Jill Dyché has advised clients and executive teams on their analytics and data programs for as long as she can remember. Longer, in fact. She’s the author of four books on the business value of technology and regularly talks to teams about what keeps them up at night. Ambivalent about analytics? Maddened by management? Constricted by your culture? Check out Jill’s Q&A column, Q&A with Jill Dyché, here.

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