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Are Analytics Ready for the Masses?

by Wayne Morris, CEO, myDIALS Inc.Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The biggest hurdle to meaningful analytics is usability. Operational decision making knows no hierarchy, yet analytics are still the privilege for an elite academic or technological few. As Forrester Analyst James Kobielus wrote in a recent blog: “The core problem with today’s advanced analytics offerings is that many of them are power tools, not solutions suitable for the mass business market. Their core user base consists of statisticians, mathematicians, and other highly educated analytics professionals.”

Kobielus continues that analytics are “approaches for fusing intelligence of the past, present, and future.” I couldn’t agree more with James’ assessment. To ensure that analytics are useful and truly contribute to critical business decisions, they need to incorporate data most relevant to the questions you ask on a daily basis – that means a simple yet comprehensive combination of past, present and future operational information within the context of a business process.

We all know that traditional analytics solutions are excessively complex, so the question remains: are advanced analytics really ready to be rolled out to the masses, or will they remain the province of a priesthood of data mining specialists?

My assertion is that analytics are in fact ready for the masses.

Applying Analytics

Thanks to the emergence of SaaS, associated web technologies and a new approach to operational BI, analytics are primed for all levels of information workers. Most importantly, with this SaaS makeover, analytics are now simple and speedy.

Imagine if analytics were as easy to understand as using an onboard computer to determine how much further you can drive your vehicle based on the amount of fuel in your tank? Or asking your navigation unit to find an alternative route? By leveraging Web 2.0 technologies, SaaS-based analytics are characterized by intuitive, interactive screens that lead to unprecedented ease of use and accessibility. Content experts can add knowledge by embedding specific vertical, process or methodology know-how that is then available to everyone using the system. Also, since SaaS provides support for business processes that span multiple organizations and departments, it simplifies the collaborative benefits of analytics across a demand chain, supply chain or delivery chain (with appropriate security of course.)

In the past, BI tools in the hands of analysts have helped to determine root cause behind performance issues, but the biggest problem is latency. For example, in today’s real-time enterprise, how can you ensure a new Ecommerce promotion is delivering results you need today if you’re getting data weeks after the fact? Today’s decision makers need accessible, intuitive and interactive BI tools that allow them to drill down, in real-time, to their most important data. The beauty of flexible SaaS technologies is that they provide users with consistent “right-time” data so that they can view data, take action and resolve an issue in the moment

Beyond simplicity and speed, we can’t forget that SaaS also makes good economic sense, opening up BI solutions to small and mid-sized companies who couldn’t afford it in the past, and increasing adoption opportunities within a single company. As David White, Aberdeen senior research analyst writes in the August 2010 report “Fast, Affordable, Agile – The Case for SaaS BI”, “conventional BI tools are simply too complex and hard to use… a clear indication that the relative simplicity of SaaS BI tools presented via a browser is a strong driver of adoption.”

Eight Questions

Vendors today are breaking the mold by providing users with analytics that answer basic, yet critical questions professionals are asking every day. To remove the disconnect between your line of business owners and the information they need to access, make sure the analytics you’re using can help them answer the following questions.

  1. What happened and what is the cause? 
    Find technology solutions that provide ways to identify the root cause of issues. This may include filtering or drilling into the drivers behind a specific outcome.
  2. What led up to this?
    By viewing statistical trend lines, you can determine whether a specific issue happened over time or abruptly. Only with trending information will you be able to accurately assess a problem.
  3. If I do nothing what is likely to happen?
    Use trend lines with forecast projections to show future outcomes.
  4. Is this a systemic problem or an abnormality?
    Use control charts to show how much change there is from one result to the next – for example, in quality or even sales cycle time – to see if you have a consistent process.  A lot of variance indicates a systemic issue.
  5. What happened the same time last year, last quarter, last month?
    Look at the differences in the results achieved the same time last year, last quarter, last month, etc., to see if you are tracking similarly or if there is a difference indicating some change in seasonality or the process itself.
  6. How does this compare to a benchmark or best practice?
    Review the difference between results being achieved in one part of your business to another, perhaps a best practice within your organization. You can also use external benchmarks to determine areas requiring improvement.
  7. What are the contributors to my issue?
    Here, Pareto charts can show you the percentage contribution of each result (great for applying the 80/20 rule.) Or, histograms can show the major “buckets” such as Accounts Receivable aging.
  8. What would happen if I made this change?
    The beauty of truly interactive dashboards means that you can now do real-time scenario analysis that shows the result of one or more changes. 

SaaS Analytics on the Fast Track

Without every person analytics, too much time and cost is wasted before decision makers actually get relevant information to shape the direction of their company’s strategies. But imagine the reality of analytics that are actionable and accessible to every single business decision maker?

According to IDC, we’re on that path. The “Worldwide Business Analytics Software-as-a-Service Forecast, 2008-2013” study predicts that the business analytics SaaS market will grow more than three times as fast as the total business analytics software market over the next five years.

When results are given within the context of everyday questions, then everyone throughout the organization can easily view, interact with and understand results of sophisticated analytics, reaping the benefits of complex algorithms without having to understand what’s working under the hood. The payback? Faster, better operational decision making for improved business performance.

About the Author

Wayne Morris has more than 25 years of experience in executive management, strategy, marketing, sales and technical roles in software, services and hardware companies. As CEO of myDIALS, Wayne helps companies optimize operational performance by connecting to multiple internal and external data sources and delivering Key Performance Indicators and Key Performance Drivers in a highly visual, intuitive, interactive dashboard suitable for all employees

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