by Rohan Light

Transformation is happening: Enterprise analytics helps give it shape

Nov 22, 2016
AnalyticsC-SuiteIT Leadership

The shift to the creative economy is hard enough without our continued use of mass-production-era management techniques. The strategic CxO must help the organization learn its way forward, and the means for doing that will be found in enterprise analytics.

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 its analytics investment.

The profession of management is changing its playbook

The global financial crisis did the profession of management a favor. It gave us a chance to look at the world we made and reflect on the role our articles of faith played in such an embarrassing meltdown. We’ve been here before. We regularly get ourselves into trouble when a particular ideology goes unquestioned for too long.

Sumantra Ghoshal wrote in his final essay about the danger of combining “excessive truth claims” with a “gloomy worldview.” It is an indictment of the poor state of management theory and its effect on management practice. Together with the global financial crisis, it asks us to reflect on how wrong we can be when seeking to explain what is going on.

The profession of management is in a liminal state. Many of the practices we have used to manage organizations have turned out to not be fit for purpose. But we haven’t yet come up with new practices to replace them. This places the strategic CxO in a tricky position and has an immediate impact on how to approach the management of enterprise analytics.

From the Industrial to the Creative

We often speak of a shift from the Industrial age to the Digital age. While this is an accurate observation, it doesn’t tell the whole story. It is perhaps more accurate to talk about a shift from the era of mass production to a creative economy. This is a qualitative change of state disguised by that innocent sounding term “digital transformation.”

The creative economy is an entirely different beast from the industrial economy that preceded it. Social digital tools delivered via cloud are the means by which we move through this liminal state. And analytics is how we will (or won’t) make sense of it. Hence my emphasis that analytics at the enterprise level is about encouraging the speed of learning within an organization.

The shift to the creative economy is hard enough without our continued use of mass-production-era management techniques. We find ourselves in the unsettling position of lacking the means to describe what our organizations are becoming. 

Hangover from the Industrial Age

This is why there are so many terms to describe “when” we are. The Social Age, the Digital Age and the Networked Era are three examples of many. All of this is fine and to be expected. Over time, one set of phrases will become accepted and find their way into people’s dictionaries. This is the signal that we have left our liminal state.

It’s fashionable to criticize the management techniques of the mass-production era, but we’re better off being a bit more reflective. We forget that we find ourselves in our current situation because of the success of that bundle of techniques. The issue is not that these techniques had no value: The issue is that we still keep using them. Sometimes it’s better to just take terms out of our dictionary and garble our way forward than waiting to swap the new terms in. Life just isn’t that neat.

One thing that may have a long hangover from the mass-production era is the hero-leader. Currently going through a revival as the “entrepreneur,” the day of the hero-leader is almost done. This is not to say that we don’t need leaders: quite the opposite. In the world of analytics especially we can forget that, in anthropological time, we haven’t really changed much over the last 70,000 years. The lesson is that we should view the successful organization as a successful social organism.

‘Digital transformation’ is about learning

The reason why there is less of a role for the hero-leader in the creative economy can be discovered in a historical parallel. The shift to mass literacy that emerged from the complex set of circumstances centered on the printing press wasn’t a case of individual leaders telling people to go out and learn to read.

This is the situation that organizations built and managed for the mass-production era find themselves in. Analytics is only part of the issue. Leadership teams just don’t have the gravitas to simply announce to everyone that the organization is digitally transforming. No one’s listening because it’s already happening.

The strategic CxO recognizes that the role she plays now is to encourage a new form of literacy. The “digital” bit is only one element and in many ways distracts us from our task. Because of the way we use the term “digital transformation,” we go back to the familiar terms of the mass-production era. But that time is gone. We are in a liminal state and moving haphazardly toward the creative economy.

The task of the CxO isn’t to demonstrate her brilliant plans for how she’s going to lead the way. Her task is to do everything in her power to help the organization learn its way forward. And the means for doing so will be found in the enterprise analytics stack.