As data acquires its own value in organizations and as business analytics emerges as a field in its own right – the more paramount becomes ensuring successful implementation of the practice of analytics. After following a number of implementations it is clear to me that success is not ensured only by focusing on the data and technology. It comes from something else.
Look at the figure below. In all its simplicity Business Analytics means that various users use technology to analyze data to reap some benefits such as more sales or lower costs. Data analytics, forecasting, algorithms, probabilities and visualization are some of the new skills of modern decision support, and when implementing Business Analytics these skills have to be learned. This is the narrative found in many case studies and reference stories about the application of various business analytics technologies and solutions.
However, most important source of long term success of business analytics is how it is implemented as a function and how decision makers approach it – i.e. how the organization approaches the connections between the different stages in the figure.
First and foremost there is enablement of the employees involved in analytics. Not only enabling them access to data through user friendly technologies, but also enabling them to run various (often complicated) analyses, enabling them to ask strange and inappropriate questions, enabling them to experiment and of course enabling them to be wrong once in a while. Some organizations find that this requires new competencies, new skills and new types of employees. Analytics is at its core driven by curiosity and creativity of the people using the technology as well as the skills and competencies these people possess. Without this the business analytics investment becomes similar to investing in a Ferrari without knowing how to drive a car. It sits out front and looks good but you get nothing out of it.
Secondly there needs to be empowerment to take action based on analytical results. These are not necessarily the same employees doing the analysis but there needs to be an organizational acceptance of acting on analytics, the courage to do so and the will to see decisions through. This in turn means a different approach to decision support and managing. Instead of basing decisions on gut feelings and hunches, decisions are guided by calculations, probabilities, experiments and scenarios that are available in real time. Sometimes these support the gut feeling of managers and sometimes they go against them. This is the new reality of managers in the age of analytics. Or to paraphrase the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the numerical reality I cannot change. Grant me the courage to act on hunches about what I can influence. And grant me the wisdom to know the difference.