by Rohan Light

Enterprise analytics is about finding better problems

May 01, 2017
AnalyticsC-SuiteIT Leadership

The digital part of transformation is only the technology element. Transformation happens when the enterprise mission changes. Once an organization is a certain size it becomes like a vertebrate: Everything needs to connect to the technology backbone. “Why are we doing this?” is the question the strategic CxO most wants to hear. It’s a question that leads to blood, sweat and tears but without it there won’t be mission transformation.

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Enterprising Analytics

To be “enterprising” is to be eager to undertake or prompt to attempt. To show initiative and be resourceful. These are leadership traits, so to be enterprising is to lead. “Analytics” is how we use data to inform decision-making, in the context of achieving business objectives. These are management practices, so analytics is about management.

“Enterprising Analytics” is about being creative, resourceful and adventurous with decision making to achieve business objectives. It is about the set of leadership and management practices that need to be in place for an organization to make the most of it’s analytics investment

But what does it all mean, Basil?

Digital transformation doesn’t seem to mean anything anymore. We’re starting to see a “2.0”‘ tacked on to the end, which is a sure sign of a worn-out term. But it’s a phrase we still use, and use a lot, to describe something we don’t often want and can rarely control.

We don’t want it because transformation is fundamental, and digital means disintermediation (well, sometimes). The weight of both elements falls on management professionals. Sometimes there’s not much difference between the strategic and the lucky. We like to think of ourselves as the former, but chances are we’re the latter.

This doesn’t stop smart enterprise sales making many mentions of the phrase. Analytics gets mentioned in the same heady breath, and often comes with the biggest price tag. So it’s something to give serious thought to.

The problem is it’s hard at the CxO level to actually know what we’re buying, partly because analytics expertise exists within skilled nodes deep within the organization. And if enterprise sales uses abstractions, it’s much less than that of data scientists.

SaaS wins beauty contests

Digital transformation is misunderstood and overhyped. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. The question is whether it’s planned activity or imported by someone who doesn’t appear on the org chart. The digital part of transformation is only the technology element. Transformation happens when the enterprise mission changes. And this is very much the business of the strategic CxO. It is, after all, the basis of her pay grade.

So what we’re dealing with is mission transformation with a hefty digital investment. This is why SaaS looks so enticing. It helps spread the chance and cost of being wrong about how to structure the digital portfolio.

This is particularly helpful with the analytics component. We know  (because we are always being told) that we have a shortage of data scientists. So when we get hold of one, the next thing we do is make the investment to justify our expensive data scientist.

Every data scientist will want the analytics portfolio that best showcases their talent. Depending on how overcommitted the leadership team is, this scenario doesn’t end well. Hence the attractiveness of SaaS.

Innovation happens through the technology backbone

SaaS also helps business leaders make their contribution to mission transformation. It gives them a chance to experiment with service and product mix. The value for them is using the “how” of work to change the “what” of work. This means using technology as a lever for behavior change. This is something to encourage.

The flip side is technology chaos, and this isn’t a good thing for managing enterprise analytics. Once an organization is a certain size, it becomes like a vertebrate: Everything needs to connect to the technology backbone. This is crucial to make analytics SaaS work. The CxO spreads the enterprise analytics investment risk as an alternative to centralization. This means making sure business units connect to the rest of the enterprise. And this happens through the established ICT backbone.

If a business unit can’t connect to the backbone, it loses much of its ability to contribute to mission transformation. It then moves from being an asset to a cost and the right CxO response is to shut it down, break it up or reposition it. This is because a change-oriented business unit informs the rest of the enterprise via the ICT backbone. The installed technology base is the delivery mechanism for innovation. It enables the digital element of the organization’s mission transformation.

Transformation is about asking the big questions

Innovation for innovation’s sake is a waste of resources. It’s as much an exercise in ego than anything else. It’s aimless, and the business version of candy floss: lots of empty calories. Innovation is about re-energizing the organization by contributing to mission transformation. One of the benefits of innovation is better decision-making. This is a big part of the enterprise analytics benefits case. Decision-making is about connecting evidence, experiments and action.

This leads to people asking questions of the organization’s mission. It is these questions that are transformative. “Why are we doing this?” is the question the strategic CxO most wants to hear. It’s a question that leads to blood, sweat and tears, but without it there won’t be mission transformation.

It’s a question that emerges with increased use of digital technology within the organization’s resource network. It’s a question for whomever gets tasked with digital transformation at the top table. It’s a question built into the way work gets done at the senior leadership level.

Avoid business as usual

In his breakthrough work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn wrote, “Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend almost all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like”.

To Kuhn, normal science is puzzle-solving and “one of the reasons why normal science seems to progress so rapidly is that its practitioners concentrate on problems that only their own lack of ingenuity should keep them from solving.”

For the strategic CxO, the analogue of normal science is business as usual. And business as usual by definition doesn’t contribute to mission transformation. Business as usual is about solving puzzles that are solvable. We hire people to solve these puzzles and when they cannot do so we replace them or find new roles for them.

Importing digital technology encourages people to think of better ways to deliver on the organization’s mission. The analytics element of these technologies allows people to sharpen their questions. It lets them seek after answers that challenge business as usual. It allows them to ask questions that are difficult. It lets them break the net of assumptions that comprise the untransformed enterprise. These are precisely the sorts of questions the strategic CxO wants to hear.