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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Multiplying Your Analytics Insights

In improving analytics, we often focus on obtaining more powerful platforms and bigger data. We neglect the second half of the equation: the abilities of our business users.

As information management practitioners, we have the honorable charge to enable analytics with powerful platforms delivering key data to business users who will make game-changing insights. At least that is what we tell ourselves we are doing.

Say the following statement to yourself: "Platforms and data enable and empower users to learn, gain insights, and make game-changing decisions." Now ask yourself, what are the most important words in that statement?

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"Platforms and data?" Maybe. "Insights and game-changing decisions?" I believe "users" is just as, if not more, important. Users can only gain those precious insights and make those key decisions if they know what to do with the data and platforms. I call this the capability-ability balance.

The Ability Equation

We often focus on capability. Certainly, business users without data at their fingertips and platforms powerful enough to deliver it in an organized and timely fashion are hamstrung -- making decisions in the dark.

Whatever your role in the information management space -- vendor, architect, analyst, strategist, etc. -- you have probably emphasized better platforms and bigger data to enable your organization. We often believe that if we build the platforms and deliver the data, the business will know what to do. It's the Field of Dreams "build it and they will come" mentality.

The trouble is that many business users, analysts, and leaders are not as ready as we think. They know they need more data -- they have asked or begged us for it. Have we equipped them to fully realize the potential of our shiny new data and platforms? This is the ability factor in the equation:

Data and platform capabilities  Business user abilities = Insights and decisions

Notice that this is a multiplication equation. More powerful capabilities and more honed abilities will multiply the value of the resulting insights and decisions. However, what is the result if one part of the equation is zero? We can build the most powerful data analytics platform, but if our users don't have the ability to use it, we will get zero results from our efforts.

Identify Your Needs and Choose Your Training

If you have already built an analytics platform or embarked on building a new one, take the time now to assess the analytical abilities of your business user community. Identify:

  • Excel mavericks -- those who can build complex, formula-laden spreadsheets
  • People who really know the data -- not just their data -- and how it is defined, modeled, and organized
  • Users who can be trusted to write appropriate and optimal SQL statements
  • People with integrated data sets on their own for their own analytical purposes
  • Users not intimidated by statistics
  • Anyone not intimidated by R (or another statistical analysis tool)
  • Users proficient in your BI and data visualization tools
  • Users who can use data to visually, creatively, and convincingly tell stories?

If the list of people you have identified is short, it is time to start growing these abilities or at least assessing the aptitude of your user community to acquire these skills. Such skills can be grown and honed in a number of ways:

  • Custom-designed training based on practical and real-world, data-intensive business scenarios
  • Tacit knowledge transfer and learning by teaming up business people with data people to solve an actual business problem
  • Courses on statistical analysis, BI development, data modeling, SQL query writing, and other topics

The Takeaway

You can multiply the value of your data analytics capabilities by also investing in the abilities of your business user community. Users with fractional or zero abilities will greatly reduce the insights and impacts you can gain from your organization's data and platform investment.

About the Author

McKnight Consulting Group is led by William McKnight. He serves as strategist, lead enterprise information architect, and program manager for sites worldwide utilizing the disciplines of data warehousing, master data management, business intelligence, and big data. Many of his clients have gone public with their success stories. McKnight has published hundreds of articles and white papers and given hundreds of international keynotes and public seminars. His teams’ implementations from both IT and consultant positions have won awards for best practices. William is a former IT VP of a Fortune 50 company and a former engineer of DB2 at IBM, and holds an MBA. He is author of the book Information Management: Strategies for Gaining a Competitive Advantage with Data.

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