How to sell data and analytics to stakeholders

Be honest, resilient and courageous Alan Duncan, Gartner

Getting stakeholder buy-in for data and analytics is a consistent challenge for chief data officers (CDOs).

While they’re able to identify that there’s an inherent need for data-driven business decision making, linking this demand to specific business benefits and outcomes can be difficult.

The 2019 Gartner CDO Survey suggests that CDOs are still struggling to articulate the rationale for investing in data and analytics solutions. This makes it challenging enough to successfully define a business case that will achieve executive approval, even without hiding behind vague statements about “better decision making".

Gartner predicts that 90 per cent of corporate strategies will explicitly mention information as a critical enterprise asset, and analytics as an essential competency by 2022. CIOs and CDOs must step up and start providing strong leadership for selling the value of data and analytics to their organisations.

It’s common to focus on the technology and architectural requirements (what) and the delivery work required to implement the solution (how). Although this is understandable, it doesn’t focus enough on what’s truly important to business leaders. While the majority of investment and project teamwork goes into these areas, the business benefits may not be so easily identifiable or measurable.

Instead, sell the vision and strategy to the business community to truly lead and develop stakeholder buy-in. This requires emphasis on identifying and communicating desired business outcomes (why) and personal impacts on the targeted stakeholders (for whom).

Set a strong vision

The first element in any data and analytics business case is to describe a positive vision that connects both emotionally and rationally to the stakeholder’s aspirations, ideally developed collaboratively by business and technology stakeholders.

Alan Duncan: 'Don’t share the detailed delivery plan of activities and tasks. This level of complexity doesn’t normally need to be exposed as part of selling the business case and makes it difficult for stakeholders and executives to understand it'

This means presenting positive outcomes that benefit both individual stakeholders and the organisation as a whole. Will it save someone time, stop duplication of effort, reduce costs, increase market share or reduce reputational risk?

The vision should be aspirational – set a positive view of the desired end state, focusing on the business impact and outcomes, rather than any project delivery details.

Be honest, resilient and courageous

To make progress with any new data and analytics initiative, any prior reasons that have inhibited progress need to be called out and made visible. This helps overcome any objections and shows that there’s a way forward, if only those challenges can be overcome.

Being explicit about the reasons for previous failures requires honesty, resilience and courage. It also requires sensitivity. However, such bravery is necessary if the organisation is to confront these failings and make changes.

Trace business outcomes back to output

Data and analytics solution designs prepared by technology-oriented delivery teams typically articulate a significant amount of detail about the architectural configuration of the data management and analytics platforms, source applications, data warehouse and data lake models, data flows and end-user tools.

This view is vital to the delivery team as practitioners. However, this approach to presenting solutions seldom articulates anything about the business questions that can be answered, as well as the actions and outcomes that can be anticipated using the data. Business stakeholders’ attention is lost as a result.

The solution blueprint for the business case must focus on articulating the information supply chain in terms that matter to the business stakeholder community. Propose a solution architecture that traces business outcomes back to supporting data and analytics output and underlying data.

Present high-level roadmap in business terms

Don’t share the detailed delivery plan of activities and tasks. This level of complexity doesn’t normally need to be exposed as part of selling the business case and makes it difficult for stakeholders and executives to understand it.

What really matters to them is:

  • What will I get?
  • When will I get it?
  • What impact will it have on me?

The delivery roadmap should be presented in such a way that only the business-facing analytic outputs and any activities that directly involve business stakeholders are presented.

Illustrate a cost-benefit analysis summary

Anticipated benefits for the business initiative must be tangible, quantifiable and desirable to the stakeholders, with the causal contributions of data and analytics clearly identified. In selling the business case, the initial investment and ongoing support costs (TCO) must be justifiable in terms of the expected return on investment (ROI).

In most cases, each quantifiable benefit is sponsored by a recipient business stakeholder, as this also ensures their ongoing participation in realising the intended value. Tie ROI back to the aspirational vision/outcomes. Focus on leading indicators and related financial expectations.

Immediate actions to kickstart the initiative

While there may be many more actions required overall, focus on the three most critical and immediate steps to generate the final impetus for selling the data and analytics business case to stakeholders.

State the actions in terms of what will happen next, who will do it, when it will be done and why it is necessary.

No caption

Alan D. Duncan is vice president analyst at Gartner, focused on data and analytics strategies and the role of chief data officers (CDOs). Alan is speaking at the upcoming Gartner Data Analytics Summit in Sydney, 17-18 February.

Sign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, career tips, views and events. Follow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz

Send news tips and comments to @divinap

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

6 digital transformation success stories