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What's The Secret of "World Class" Analytics Teams?

What's the one thing that world-class analytics teams do that others don't?

Some years ago, I was asked to do a presentation for a Nordic Telecom company. The company had grown rapidly through acquisitions around Europe and so had lots of different systems and silos of analytics tools throughout the company.

In an attempt to rationalize existing solutions and provide more value to the business, the company organized an internal conference. Analytics teams from around the world were invited to help determine the company's future analytics strategy.

I was invited to give an external perspective on the trends and challenges of the market, but they asked me to concentrate on one specific question:

"We want to be a world-class analytics organization -- what would that look like?"

After thinking about it for some time, I realized that this was a great question that many analytics teams get wrong.

In particular, it's very easy for centralized IT-based organizations to spend the vast majority of their time developing and maintaining the analytics infrastructure that people need to make fact-based decisions.

But being a world-class analytics team is not about successfully installing software. It's not even getting people to use that software to make better decisions.

Ultimately, the goal should be to change the information culture of the organization. Does this cartoon remind you anybody in your organization?

I have data cartoon

The best tools in the world aren't going to help the two executives on the right-hand side, who just aren't even thinking about using data to get the right answer.

Before we fix the technology, we first have to make sure that people are ready and willing to use the information that we are trying to make available.

So a world-class analytics program focuses on people. It goes beyond simply giving power users the information they are asking for. It helps and encourages employees at all levels of the organization to think about what data and decisions are needed to make fact-based decisions, and how to take things to the next level. It makes sure there are systems in place that reward curiosity, improved analysis skills, and rethought business processes.

Analytics isn't only about getting the right answers. In the long run, it's much more important to ask the right questions.

"Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers" - Voltaire

Using the Voltaire test, a world-class analytics team is one that can point to regular, steady improvement in the questions they are asked to answer...

[A version of this post appeared on the SAP Business Trends blog]

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