Analyse this: How to approach business analytics
Failing to prepare for business analytics is preparing to fail
With huge amounts of data now being generated every single minute of every single day, courtesy of applications aimed at streamlining business processes and digitising information, organisations across the Middle East are increasingly grappling with the need to make sense of it all.
The majority of the region’s CIOs estimate data growth in their organisations to be running at a rate of 20 to 30% per year, with much of it being unstructured, and there is a growing desire to leverage this potentially valuable information to inform decision makingand drive competitive advantage.
This has all led to growing interest in business analytics (BA), with such solutions now consistently ranking among the most important transformation technologies in surveys of Middle East CIOs. At IDC, we define BA as being software tools and applications with the functionality to aggregate, manage, organise, analyse, access, and deliver structured and unstructured data; this includes business intelligence tools, performance management and analytics applications and data warehousing platforms.Myriad BA solutions are now available on the market, but their deployment requires careful consideration. Indeed, CIOs must address a number of key business and technology requirements if their BA implementations are ultimately to be fit for purpose.
The most critical business aspect is to ensure that senior management is fully on board with the need to gain better and faster insights from the vast amounts of data being generated across the organisation. Justifying the use case and securing that all-important executive buy-in is the first step to ensuring that BA will actually aid the decision-making process. And while this might sound easier said than done, we have seen plenty of cases where it was the executive board members themselves that first identified the need for a BA solution.
However, the board are not the only people who need convincing of the merits of BA; it is also important to gain support from the various departmental heads across the organisation, as their backing will further cement the business use case and justify the required budget allocations. The arguments put forward in these discussions will inevitably differ from department to department, with line-of-business (LoB) managers seeking clarity on how BA will positively impact the areas that are most relevant to their particular teams. This won’t be straightforward, but again we have seen cases where marketing managers and other LoB heads were the ones to initiate the BA discussion, so there will be allies.
CIOs also need to work closely with LoB heads — preferably from the very start of the project’s initiation — to define relevant key performance indicators (KPIs). Given the amount of unstructured data floating around organisations, it will always be more efficient to have the relevant stakeholders define a set of KPIs so that the correct data is filtered out and recycled for reporting purposes. And once the project is about to go live, these stakeholders need to work hand in hand to drive awareness and facilitate smooth change management. Employees must be fully on board with the fact that decision making is about to change, and users will need to be trained on how to properly use the data and interpret the generated reports.
Taking care of the above business considerations is only half the job, as there are inevitably a number of critical technology aspects that must also be addressed. Ensuring data quality is chief among these, as is the need to properly integrate data into the relevant business analytics systems. This is particularly important given the various application silos that typically exist across any organisation and the fact that that some applications are likely create much higher data volumes than others.
IT heads must also work closely with LoBs on the issue of data governance; data assets must be defined, the way data is captured should be standardised, and there needs to be agreement on exactly what data can and cannot be accessed, and by whom. There needs to be cross-functional ownership of this data, with all stakeholders working together to ensure the governanceframework is managed effectively. This all feeds into the issue of data security, as BA solutions gain access to a wide variety of data right across the organisation. It is therefore important that the data being accessed is secure and that any relevant security guidelines and legislation are adhered to at all times.
When it comes to business analytics, one aspect applies equally to both LoBs and IT — skills. IT departments may well have the necessary resources in place to deploy the required BA solutions, but these employees will not necessarily be specialised in the art of data mining.
And for LoBs, at least some departments are likely to be missing the analytical skill sets required to effectively leverage the BA solutions that have been deployed to assist them in their decision making. Skills shortages are nothing new in the Middle East, but if the BA revolution is really going to work, organisations must either invest heavily in training or ensure their analytics processes are automated. Only then will organisations begin to see the data they already hold in a whole new light.
Megha Kumar is senior research manager for software at IDC Middle East, Turkey and Africa.