BI Leadership

The Future of Analytics: Answering the “Next” Question

If you had to guess, what percentage of your organization is happy with the amount of data they have to do their jobs? 50%? 30%? I bet it’s less than 10%. And why do you think that is? Why aren’t more people screaming down the halls in anger? It’s because we’ve slowly conditioned people to stop asking data related questions by making them wait too long for answers. If people think the answer will never come, they give up and simply go with their gut. Or they only think within the constraints of the canned dashboard they’re given. It reminds me of the classic Taco Bell ad—it’s time to think outside the dashboard (bun)!

In many organizations, business people have little to no meaningful access to data analytics. And for those trying to advance business through a data-driven approach, their employees typically have limited visibility through a set of static reports or dashboards.

Think about that for a moment. Take the collective education, context, and instincts of the people in your organization. Now starve their brains, and stifle their creativity. Your employees are the most valuable asset in your company—people cost is typically the #1 expense category, at 20-30% of revenue. And by limiting their ability to explore company data as they need to, you’re essentially leaving them blindfolded with one arm tied behind their backs. In a time when organizations are using their data as a competitive advantage, shouldn’t we make the most of what we have?

The Reality of Being Agile

At the same time, its no secret that the pace of business has accelerated with the speed of information. The effect of this on the global economy is much greater than it was just a few years ago. With an ever increasing number of unpredictable events happening across the globe—Brexit, Greece’s Default, Japan’s Tsunami—“long term planning” has given way to the new “agile business” that must be able to react at a moment’s notice.

To be agile and respond to the constantly changing landscape, businesses are making decisions at every level of their organization, not just in the C-suite. If we assume the average frontline employee makes between 2-5 decisions every day, then a 15,000 person company is probably making close to 50,000 daily decisions. But how can an employee make the right decision without access to the right information?  

It’s What They’re NOT Asking For

BI has historically been both expensive and hard to use. In fact according to TDWI analyst David Stodder, one of the top trends in BI in 2017 will be self-service analytics that support agile organizations. If it takes the average organization close to 5 days to return a new report, then we’ve conditioned our business users to stop asking for the data they need to drive the thousands of decisions they are making every day.

Now, I haven’t found a statistic on these unasked questions, but I do think there’s a bigger analytics need than what we’re currently seeing. Based on my own experience as an analytics consumer and from talking with colleagues and customers in the field, I think it’s reasonable to assume there is 2-5x more demand than what many BI teams see in their backlogs of requests. Remember, if we’ve conditioned our people not to ask the next question, but to simply work with the limited views they’re given, what do you think they would ask if they could?

Asking the Next Question

In my previous post, It’s Time to Think Different About BI, I wrote about a new concept—Zero Cost Analytics. This idea is that once you have your BI solution in place, the cost of asking another question and immediately getting an answer, should be zero.

The Zero Cost Analytic means you can unleash the massive untapped intelligence in the enterprise. Your business users are no longer restrained by the limited views of static reports or dashboards, nor do they need to wait for an analyst to build them a new view. They can simply ask the questions they have and explore the data as they need, so they can quickly make data-decisions each day.

As impossible as this may sound, it’s a reality being implemented by organizations today. The scope and scale of what is discovered could change the trajectory of an enterprise. Now everyone in your organization can create insights and make data-driven decisions, rather than just a handful of BI analysts. And they can do this on a daily basis.

The Agile Enterprise of Tomorrow

If we believe that knowledge and insight is a key enabler of the agile enterprise, then it’s time to start focusing on enabling the largest and most powerful asset in the organization—your employees. Organizations need to move with an urgency and scale that most are not doing today. 52% of the Fortune 500 since 2000 have disappeared, and in many cases replaced by organizations that have used data to move at a speed previously unseen (e.g. Netflix and Amazon).

But the pains being felt in terms of BI needs are just the tip of the iceberg. If you aren’t giving your business users the access they need, then you don’t yet even know the questions they would be asking if they could. Your business users need access to data, the longevity of your organization depends on it. Give them the power of insight today.

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