Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Competing on Analytics

Now that analytics have come into vogue, we are seeing the beginnings of what might be called “quantitative showmanship” whereby companies leverage their analytic capacities in the marketplace seeking competitive advantage. Still, it is difficult to “fake” analytic reasoning, which might explain why competing on analytics is so powerful. In truth, while some companies are truly taking the lead in analytics, others may be deluding themselves into believing their analytic capabilities are greater than they are.

Companies seeking to become analytically competitive should first assess the current state of their extant capabilities. Prof Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris in their book, Competing on Analystics (Harvard, 2007), present a framework of five stages of analytic development (see below). "These stages can describe the path that an organization can follow from having virtually no analytical capabilities to being a serious analytical competitor." But, while many companies fancy themselves to be analytic competitors, many possess only localized capacities, and some are simply analytically impaired.

Source: Adapted from Davenport & Harris, Competing on Analytics (2007), p. 35.

Being someone who works with analysts from around the world on a regular basis, I have a unique vantage point from which to assess how companies and governments are doing. Here are some lines that epitomize what I see more often than not:

Leaders who “don’t get it.” There is nothing more discouraging for an analyst than the leader who listens to an analytical proposition, and then asks something like, "is this experimental?” Leaders who are not versed in financial risk analysis might consider reviewing these subjects with a statistics coach in order to reacquire their poise and confidence with quantitative reasoning.

People who “hate” numbers. Let’s face it, not everyone is an analyst, which is fine. Still, some people truly despise thinking quantitatively. As companies foray deeper into analytical competition, it is necessary that we begin to recognize and advance the people who in fact “love” to think quantitatively.

Processes that “swirl” in support of conjecture. For example, many IT installations are premised on false hopes and promises, and implementation of technology solutions in isolation cannot affect analytic advantage. It is important that we begin to discipline IT departments to ground technology projects upon facts that are validated by hard rather than soft evidence.

Technology that fails to capture, sort, and make sense of data. For example, companies have reached the point where fancy office applications alone do nothing to add value. What is needed are better analytical tools that have the capacity to acquire, encode, modulate, and output information arrays in a form that is useful and actionable for creating and sustaining competitive advantage.

While I am delighted to see analytics moving into the limelight, we have a long way to go before companies across America can honestly claim to be analytic competitors.

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