The Unnoticed Analyst: Can analytics succeed while going unnoticed?

The classic Harvard Business School case “Otisline (A)”1 begins with the quote, “… our objective is to go unnoticed.”

Bob Smith (not his real name), source of the quote and Chief Operating Officer at Otis Elevator, knows that elevators tend to remain well under the radar screen until they break. In the elevator business, you can be hugely successful and highly profitable by going unnoticed.

In the global economy, can analytic practitioners be hugely successful in their careers while going unnoticed?

Midway through an ethnographic analysis of the role of analytics in large, global enterprises, I find myself struck by the relative invisibility of analytics and analysts, the people who specialize in analytics.

Despite the laudable efforts of analytic evangelists such as Michael Lewis (Moneyball), Tom Davenport (Competing on Analytics), Jim Davis (The Information Revolution) and Ian Ayres (Super Crunchers), analysts, for the most part, remain hidden in the shadows while analytics remains a mystery to most C-level executives. Should we, as a community, be mobilizing to capture more mind share at the top of the enterprise?

Selling Analytics

It would be interesting to commission a study from one of the big research firms and ask a broad subset of the planet’s population what first pops to mind when they hear the word “analytics.”

Researchers at the IT Leadership Academy are doing just that in Global 2000 enterprises. The CIO’s response tends to be “reports” (61 percent of the population). Successful CMOs give an answer that includes a subset of “how I do my job/how we generate value/how we deliver on the promise of the brand.” And the people who actually do analytics give all kinds – and lengths – of responses.

However, no one is saying “before we can do analytics we must explain the take-to-the-bank value of analytics to decision makers.” In other words, analysts, the practitioners, have to sell analytics, the discipline.

Our Blind Spot

If one were to write the definitive history of analytics in the modern age, the RAND Corporation would receive significant ink. Like the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University, the Central Michigan University Research Corporation BI Forum and the SAS campus in Cary, North Carolina, RAND is a haven for high-intellect practitioners of quantitative problem solving.

Many sacred spaces of analytics have historically had a blind spot – understanding the behaviors of the humans who materially affect the creation of analytical outputs (primarily bosses and funding sources). Often in our profession we become so intent and so fascinated with quantitative problem solving that we lose sight of the human context in which those problems reside.

Franklin R. Collbohm, former test pilot, right-hand man to the head of Douglas Aircraft during World War II and founder of RAND, recognized this blind spot and asked for help:

“Well, we think we know a lot about planes, and other devices, but there’s one thing we don’t know much about, and that is a certain machine that weighs – oh, between 160 to 185 pounds, is between five-feet-eight and six feet, and is called a ‘pilot.’”2

Remember – RAND’s sole funding source was Air Force generals (i.e., pilots). If we are to optimize the value generated by analytics, we are going to have to humanize our in-organization behaviors. In today’s world, analytics is a product/service that must be sold.

Salespeople will tell you that the basis of sales success is having a great product (which we have) and a strong relationship beachhead from which to pitch the product.

George Washington knew that ultimate victory would not be accomplished on the battlefield, but in the hearts and minds of those engaged. In other words, public relations matters. Washington, despite losing more battles than he won, was eulogized as being “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.” When you are gone, will analytics be first in the hearts and minds of your CEO, your CMO and your board of directors?

True victory lies in capturing the imagination, respect and energy of a broad and diverse set of stakeholders, including suppliers, customers and executives.

As analysts, we need to expand the organization’s “smartwidth” – its capability to understand and act on information. Broadband gives us more information. Smartwidth gives your organization more understanding regarding what all this information means.

That’s what executives are looking for: meaning and insight from existing information sources. And that’s what analytics provides. It’s up to us to make that connection clear and start getting noticed as the smartwidth source. Our objective, after all, is NOT to go unnoticed.

This article was republished with the permission of sascom Magazine.

Sources

  1. F.W. McFarlan and D.B. Stoddard (July 15, 1990). Harvard Business School 1995-96 Catalog of Best-Selling Teaching Material; Ref No. 9-186-304. The case instructs students in the value of deconstructing an industry into its component parts. (The elevator industry can be divided into two buckets – new equipment sales and service.) The case illustrates how information technology, innovatively, insightfully and courageously deployed, can change the structure of an industry.
  2. Alex Abella, Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire (NY: Harcourt Inc., 2008).

About the Author

Thornton May, Executive Director and Dean at the IT Leadership Academy, is one of the premier visionaries in the IT industry. His book, The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics (Wiley and SAS Business Series), positions analysts as heroes of the age we are about to enter.

StrategyDriven Podcast Special Edition 52b – An Interview with Ken Ball and Gina Gotsill, co-authors of Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus, part 2 of 2

StrategyDriven Podcasts focus on the tools and techniques executives and managers can use to improve their organization’s alignment and accountability to ultimately achieve superior results. These podcasts elaborate on the best practice and warning flag articles on the StrategyDriven website.

Special Edition 52b – An Interview with Ken Ball and Gina Gotsill, co-authors of Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus, part 2 of 2 explores methods for effectively capturing, retaining, and transferring the knowledge of departing workers thereby enabling those who remain to continue to use this hard-won information to the benefit of the organization. During our discussion, Ken Ball and Gina Gotsill, co-authors of Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus: Capturing Knowledge for Gen X and Y Employees, share with us their insights and illustrative examples regarding:

  • the characteristics of a good knowledge retention program
  • how to identify those individuals whose knowledge should be captured and retained
  • how to identify when someone is likely to retire, including the legal and ethical restrictions surrounding such activities
  • overcoming employees’ fear of personal value loss when sharing their hard-won knowledge
  • actions leaders should take to ensure captured knowledge reaches those who need it in a way and at a time that makes it useful to them
  • how a knowledge retention program’s return on investment and overall programmatic success can be measured

Additional Information

Ken and Gina’s book, Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus: Capturing Knowledge for Gen X and Y Employees (Course Technology PTR, Cengage Learning 2010), can be purchased by clicking here.

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About the Author

Ken Ball is a Baby Boomer and has been tracking issues relating to aging in the workplace for several years. At TechProse, he drives business development for the consulting firm that specializes in knowledge/content management, training, and documentation for major U.S. clients. He has more than 30 years of experience in corporate sales and marketing, including years in book publishing business, working for IDG Books, publishers of the …For Dummies computer and general reference books. He has a marketing communications degree from Bradley University.

Gina Gotsill is a Gen X writer who has studied journalism at San Francisco State University and University of California, Berkeley. She is also a fellow of the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Gina has covered a wide range of business topics that include keeping Boomer skills in the workplace, teaching finance to non-finance professionals, and growth and change in urban and suburban business clients.

For more information about Ken Ball and Gina Gotsill and Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus (Course Technology PTR, Cengage Learning 2010), please visit their website www.survivingtheboomerexodus.com.

StrategyDriven Decision-Making Best Practice Article

Decision-Making Best Practice 11 – Evaluate the Front Page Headline

StrategyDriven Decision Making ArticleTransparency motivates. Transparency shapes. Transparency drives. Decisions made in full view of those who would provide critical judgment – shareholders, regulators, employees, and the public – provides a powerfully strong guiding force that demands decision-makers fully vet the business and ethical implications of each option and soundly support their ultimate selection. Not every decision can or should be made in the public view. However, every decision-maker can challenge their team and themselves with the question, How would this decision read as a New York Times front page headline?


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Selfless Leadership: Putting Our Cause First

In the fourth couplet of his poem ‘If-,’ Rudyard Kipling wrote:
 

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

 
Kipling is telling us that as leaders, we must be willing to put our cause or beliefs ahead of our personal gain. He is reminding us that true leadership requires a degree of selflessness. It requires us to put our cause and those we lead ahead of ourselves.


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About the Author

Doug Moran has more than twenty-five years of leadership experience in a variety of industries. Doug is the author of the forthcoming book, If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for 21st-Century Leaders. He founded IF YOU WILL LEAD, LLC to help leaders and organizations reach their fullest potential. The firm focuses on leadership development, organization excellence and information technology. His book, speaking, and consulting leverage the power of story-telling and enduring wisdom to help leaders and their organizations excel and grow.

Refusing to Hire the Unemployed

Wendy Powell, author of Management Experience Acquired, was a recent guest on NBC’s Daytime; sharing her insights on:

  • why employers are refusing to hire the unemployed
  • what unemployed individuals can do to overcome this obstacle
  • how unemployed individuals should handle questions about their previous employer during an interview

Wendy Powell on the StrategyDriven Podcast

Earlier this month, we were privileged to talk with Wendy about her new book, Management Experience Acquired, on the StrategyDriven Podcast. Listen as we explore the techniques managers need to know in order to effectively deal with the diverse employee issues that occur in today’s workplace environment.