Agility – the Key to Driving Analytics Initiatives Forward
By John K. Thompson – General Manager, Advanced Analytics, Dell Software
— February 2015
In many ways, it can be said that data analytics has reached a tipping point of sorts. Companies of all sizes, across all verticals, are keenly aware of the need to leverage analytics in order to derive critical insights from data. A recent survey showed that 61 percent of organizations across the globe have big data just waiting to be analyzed. The same survey, however, showed that only 39 percent of organizations feel they have a firm understanding of how to go about extracting value from that data. Clearly, there’s a disconnect happening here – a gap between companies’ desire to tap into the power of analytics and their ability to actually do so. The key to bridging that gap? In a word, agility.
Consider the following scenario, an all too common occurrence among businesses trying to get their analytics initiatives off the ground: A line of business executive – perhaps a marketer or a product manager – wants to know how a messaging campaign or a new product feature relates to recent changes in customer behavior. To find the answer, she contacts someone in IT, usually a data wrangler, who is more than happy to help – in four months, after he deals with the 60 other open requests currently on his plate. By then, the line of business executive has forgotten why she even asked for the data in the first place or now has newer, more pressing real-time concerns. In essence, most companies’ centralized analytic environments are slow, expensive, dependent on overworked IT staff members, lacking in scalability, and not easily leveraged across the enterprise.
The roadblocks encountered in this scenario, while significant, are not insurmountable. The answer is to build agility into your analytics, such that your company can lessen its reliance on these slow, centralized processes and instead create distributed environments in which line of business personnel have self-service data access that enables them to leverage everything from integration, BI and visualization, all the way up to advanced analytics.
Building this democratized, agile environment requires significant-yet-attainable organizational changes from both an infrastructure and skill perspective. Let’s take the latter concept first. Companies looking to build more agility into their analytics need to train their staffs to develop a mindset that is both analytical and self-service in nature. The company culture needs to be such that everyone involved with the business is an analyst. Everyone with a stake in the game should actively seek answers to questions that are germane to their business. Agility is first and foremost about company mindset. Investing in technology – even if it’s the right technology – is counterproductive if your business teams aren’t eager to embrace the possibilities it opens up.
Though not the first step, investing the right technology plays an equally critical role in the search for agility. Data environments have become increasingly distributed. Simply put, data is all over the place. Businesses need tools that not only make it easy to discover and get to those data sources, but tools that let analysts experiment with the data when they do get to it, such that they can integrate it, blend it, analyze it, report on it, and socialize it. That last point is especially critical. Part of building agility is building a community of sharing. The point of analytics isn’t simply to get to the data – it’s to derive actionable insights that can be shared with company decision makers. If you can’t share, you can’t impact change.
One last thing to remember as your organization starts down the journey to agility is that this is a journey. Transforming the culture and capabilities of your business isn’t something that happens overnight. Delivering analytic agility across the enterprise can often take 6 to 12 months of training and investment. That might seem like a long road to travel, but remember, any investment in analytics is an investment in the long-term health and viability of your business. It’s your way – increasingly, your only way – to stay ahead in a marketplace loaded with new, fast-moving competitors looking to out maneuver you at every turn. Considering the stakes, the investment in agility seems both small and worthwhile.