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Why your analytics strategy is not working…it’s not what you would think

I just finished reading another analyst survey sponsored by technology vendors discussing why organizations struggle to advance their analytics programs.  The top priorities read like every other survey of the last couple of years: produce more “advanced” analytics, rollout more self-service analytics tools, and increase “data literacy” skills across the organization.  Sounds great if you are looking to sell more software or services. But what about those of us that want to use the existing analytics assets to make better decisions in the context of our digital work? 

(While I work for a vendor, I am writing as a frustrated 25-year marketing leader who just wants a simpler approach to using the wealth of analytics resources available to my team and me.) 

Over the last ten years, myriad studies have been published that talked about how organizations need to invest in data and analytics as a cornerstone of digital transformation. The challenge is that most digital initiatives have come up short. In a recent Gartner webinar, they said that 72% of digital business transformations missed revenue expectations, and 67% missed profit expectations. 

That didn’t stop the Business Intelligence (BI) market from growing to nearly $20 billion in revenue on the promise of self-service analytics (SSA). Why then are we still seeing surveys where only 16% of respondents say that rank-and-file employees have access to analyzed data, and only 15% say everyone in the organization has access? 

If you are associated with analytics at your organization, whether as a producer, curator, or tool manager, this should give you pause. Technology providers and consultants have you so focused on producing more assets (reports, visualizations, dashboards – which are now often marketed as “advanced”) that everyone forgot about the other side of the equation: ensuring that what is produced is being consumed. For an analytics strategy to have the impact a company requires, it is time to stop listening to all the people trying to sell something. It is time to listen to the customer, the analytics consumer. In your organization, the analytics consumer is the campaign manager in marketing trying to improve the effectiveness of their investments, the logistics manager resolving supply chain bottlenecks, and the global finance team trying to close the quarter quicker to allow for more analysis – to name just a few.

One of our enlightened clients, Brown-Forman, recognized this issue when they weren’t getting the daily adoption they wanted after implementing Tableau. They went to the source and surveyed their internal customers. They discovered that: “Simply a lot of people didn’t know how to access information across all of our tools and platforms.” Less than 20% of their population were confident that they were aware of what current reporting was available and knew how to access it.  Only 1 in 3 were satisfied with their experience of accessing business information.  What was encouraging was that over 90% were open to change. So just pumping out more analytics wasn’t the answer.

So, what should organizations do to address these analytics challenges?  Besides asking the customer directly (what Brown-Forman did), we see requirements fall into three broad buckets: (1) Access, (2) Awareness, and (3) Experience. We believe that together, focusing on improving these three areas for the analytics consumer can have a more significant impact than just SSA or a data literacy program.

Access

In general, create a location (some call it a hub or portal) that can serve as the central clearinghouse for all the assets that an analytics consumer may need. This starting point includes assets produced by the main analytics team and insights captured in tools like Excel and PowerPoint. (Note: In 2021, Excel use grew by 30%).

Requirements also need to support the protection and governance programs of the organization.  This means enforcing existing policies and tools but also offering a streamlined process whereby analytics consumers can request timely access to additional insights.  SIDEBAR:  Time is of the essence. For teams requesting access to internal data beyond their departmental remit, the response time could be measured in months in 53% of cases.

Awareness

Making the analytics assets available to the respective teams is one thing. It is another if analytics consumers do not know these hubs exist or that specific assets that could improve their outcomes are added/updated. These new consumers are distributed geographically and/or by location (home, office, store, branch, operations center, warehouse, manufacturing, client location, etc.). Establishing an active awareness program, supported smart alerts, and nudge engines integrated into their existing work tools is critical for driving adoption and keeping the analytics community active.  SIDEBAR: Making a wrong decision. 44% of users occasionally or frequently made a wrong decision because they did not have the information they needed. 

Experience

It’s not just about delivering digitally or rolling out SSA tools to more people. Organizations must consider the analytics consumer persona more broadly. They are diverse (finance, sales, marketing, operations, customer support) and have a very different skill set (domain vs. analytical vs. technical) than the typical analyst. While data and analytics pundits push for data literacy programs to make up for some of the perceived skills gaps, the complexity of the tools and how they have been implemented may be exacerbating this problem.  

To drive analytics consumption, a simple experience is paramount.  It should include many elements of B2C thinking, including offering multiple ways to find the right item, whether by searching, browsing, or peer recommendations.  It needs to be aesthetically pleasing to accelerate onboarding and a quick learning curve.  Users should be able to provide feedback and pose questions to the producer of the report or to the broader community.  Most importantly, it should allow the user to compose the analytics assets within the process context and facilitate collaboration across their extended team.

In general, your analytics program may be limited in its potential, not because of the BI tools or reports that are being provided.  Rather, it is constrained by the lack of alignment with the analytics customer and how they consume the assets.  Rather than making assumptions about what would be beneficial, why not just ask them what they need to be effective and stop listening to sales noise? 

Written by Paul Brunet, ZenOptics VP of Marketing 

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