By D'Marquis Allen
There is a common notion that analytics is the solution to any number of business problems. Even the mention of analytics always seems to garner a special buzz because of the potential to transform the space where its concepts, tools, and best practices are being applied.
Building an analytics organization is both an exciting and entrepreneurial undertaking. This is especially true in the case of building an analytics organization within an existing, larger company. Regardless of your technical background, and whether you are launching the organization independently or within a larger company, the ultimate task is to launch a startup.
Eric Reis, NYT best-selling business author, defines that task this way: a startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty. Reis also shares the term “intrapreneurs” to describe entrepreneurs who operate inside an established organization. If you’re an intrapreneur who has been tasked with building an analytics organization within your company, here are a few of the biggest challenges you may face along the way and recommendations to address them.
Regardless of your technical background, and whether you are launching the organization independently or within a larger company, the ultimate task is to launch a startup.
Challenges & Recommendations
1. Fight the perception that financial commitment alone is enough
Once a budget has been cleared to fund your analytics organization, it’s natural for interests and expectations to surface. Certainly, colleagues will inquire about how they can become involved and to what degree their involvement will benefit them professionally. To only mention the amount of money invested is both unsatisfactory and incomplete. Money can buy you the tools, money can even buy you the knowledge – but who will create the strategy to understand what concepts/tools are to be taught? Once that strategy is created, who will then teach members of your organization to apply what they have learned? And how much time will be allowed to strategize and teach? Whether your analytics organization will ultimately provide a service or a product, it can be easy to think that the financial commitment to fund the venture is enough.
Recommendation: The most significant commitment you can obtain from your company leadership comes in the form of experienced human capital. Be it a third-party who specializes in analytics or senior employees who possess deep analytics proficiency, these people will be able to provide strategic direction and build the organization with greater efficiency. This caliber of human capital, fully dedicated to establishing the organization, will provide greater overall stability and direction to the promising startup being planted.
2. Meet the need of your organization without overpromising and under-delivering
Much like your first time visiting a restaurant with a cuisine you have never experienced or even heard of, building an analytics organization can be a deceptively stressful endeavor. The discipline of analytics encompasses a multitude of areas that can leave you paralyzed with indecision because of all the unfamiliar options, or worse, filled with regret because the entrees and sides you selected did not meet your stakeholder’s palette. It seems appealing to order an entrée of predictive analytics with a side of python-based data cleansing and custom Tableau development for dessert, but what you may find is that the eyes that anticipated your stakeholder’s needs were bigger than the stomach your own skills could readily digest.
Recommendation: To avoid overwhelming and overcommitting yourself and your resources, go with what you know. When you are getting started, settle on a handful of need-specific goals, and grow from there, especially if some level of knowledge and skill already exists within your organization. If you discover there is a need for visualizations and dashboards invest in learning the requisite tools and best practices to become proficient. If you know that a particular industry you are seeking to enter has a particular need for master data management or data processing, invest in the training and platforms that will help position you to support your stakeholders and address their business needs.
3. Avoiding the perception of inaccessibility
A key criterion often used to categorize the end user’s usability of an analytics tool is its learning curve. A tool with a shallow learning curve requires fewer hours and less overall effort to produce a desired result, thus incentivizing the user to continue using the tool. Conversely, a tool with a steep learning curve demands many hours and much effort to produce the same or similar result, which dis-incentivizes the user from continuing to use the tool. This relationship between a tool’s complexity and productivity can also apply to the relationship between your analytics organization and end users if the barriers to entry are too high. Building an analytics organization that places barriers of entry too high will impact interest and lead to a ‘black box’ effect where the mystique around the group overshadows the impact of the work being done within the group.
Recommendation: You can navigate this by prioritizing the end-user within your organization and emphasizing learning and collaboration beyond your organization. People will want to consume your organization’s services and products but only to the extent that those services and products are beneficial to them. How much closer to a decision do executives become if a dashboard presents little or no insight? How helpful is a report to management if it can only be interpreted by the person or team who produced it? If end-users determine they cannot take advantage of your offerings – or that attempting to take advantage of your offerings does not benefit them- you risk being viewed as unable to help, or worse, not worth the investment. Take the time within your organization to understand the needs, wants, and expectations of your end-users to build products and provide services that yield time, effort, and cost savings. Additionally, the way you engage the “achievers” beyond your organization is important. For those who desire to consume and create, consider creating intentional opportunities for employees to present topics they are studying and for their peers to ask questions. Offer guided challenges facilitated by employees who know the tools and technologies being used, always explaining the cumulative effect that mastering the basic skills will have on the ability to perform more complex functions in the future. Analytics should be accessible to the people in your organization, both in terms of consumers and achievers, so that your organization provides the intended benefit to all involved.
Build in Spite of the Challenges
Challenges are commonplace when you’re doing something new or under conditions of extreme uncertainty. If you were anything like me as a child, you may recall the utter frustration from misplacing the instructions to your freshly released Lego set; and how that frustration turned to grueling pain and somber tears after realizing how daunting it might be to re-create the image on the packaging absent a blueprint. How could I possibly erect something from what appears to be nothing or not enough? The presence of challenges is no reason not to build or explore what can be built; instead it should inspire your efforts to try that new thing and fortify your pursuits to navigate the unknown. With these considerations in mind, you should be equipped to channel your inner intrapreneur and effectively build an analytics organization from the ground up.
Analytics should be accessible to the people in your organization, both in terms of consumers and achievers, so that your organization provides the intended benefit to all involved.