Who Cares About Data?

Posted by Taylor Haney on Wed, Aug 14, 2013

As we continue with our data and analytics guest blogging theme for the month we bring you a post from Jesse Harriott, Chief Analytics Officer at Constant Contact. Jesse tells us more about the idea of actionable insights and how this is even more important than the data. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, e-mail me at taylor [at] mitx [dot] org.

Jesse Harriott 2aDr. Jesse Harriott is currently Chief Analytics Officer at Constant Contact. Prior to Constant Contact, Jesse was Chief Knowledge Officer at Monster Worldwide where he helped drive annual revenue from $300 Million to over $1.3 Billion. Harriott started an international analytics division at Monster and created the Monster Employment Index in more than 30 countries, now tracked in the United States, Europe and Asia by millions of people. He also led Web analytics, business intelligence, competitive intelligence, data governance, marketing research, and sales analytics departments for Monster. Prior to Monster, Dr. Harriott created an analytics consulting practice for e-commerce company Gomez (now Compuware), where his team led projects for Internet start-ups and well-known brands, including Orbitz.com, WebMD, and Fidelity.  

In the complex world of analytics, I have often times seen many organizations focus on the numbers and stats without identifying what they mean or whether their companies are getting the most business action from their data. A common sentiment I hear consistently is that their organizations are drowning in data but lacking in understanding and action from that data. Sure, data is the foundation upon which analytics can have an impact on your business, but actionable insight is required to unlock business value for your organization.

Providing analytical services is somewhat like being a professional translator, helping to convert numbers and trends into something the business can understand and act upon. However, analysts are often very comfortable deep in the data and not as comfortable translating that data into action.

So how do you get your analysts to pull their heads up from the data and focus on the business? It’s not always an easy task, and it’s a bit of an art and a science. Based on my experience leading analytical teams, as well as input my co-author and I received from researching successful analytical organizations for our book, Win with Advanced Business Analytics, we developed the IMPACT Cycle to guide analysts through the process of ensuring they are insightful business partners, rather than just purveyors of data. Here are the six steps in the IMPACT Cycle:

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  • Identify the Questions. In a nonintrusive way, help your business partner identify the critical business questions he or she needs help in answering. Then set a clear expectation of the time and the work involved to get an answer.

  • Master the Data. This is an analyst’s sweet spot—assemble, analyze, and synthesize all available information that will help in answering the critical business questions. Create simple and clear visual presentations (charts, graphs, tables, interactive data environments, and so on) of the data that are easy to comprehend.

  • Provide the Meaning. Articulate clear and concise interpretations of the data and visuals in the context of the critical business questions that were identified.

  • Actionable Recommendations. Provide thoughtful business recommendations based on your interpretation of the data. Even if they are off-base, it’s easier to react to a suggestion than to generate one. Where possible, tie a rough dollar figure to any revenue improvements or cost savings associated with your recommendations.

  • Communicate Insights. Focus on a multipronged communication strategy that will get your insights as far and as wide into the organization as possible. Maybe it’s in the form of an interactive tool others can use, a recorded Webex of your insights, a lunch and learn, or even just a thoughtful executive memo that can be passed around.

  • Track Outcomes. Set up a way to track the impact of your insights. Make sure there is future follow-up with your business partners on the outcome of any actions. What was done? What was the impact? And what are the new critical questions that need your help as a result?

The IMPACT Cycle provides the analytical professional with a guiding framework for thinking about the steps of being an effective analytical consultant and can be a tool to help you drive effective analytical teams. 

So who cares about the data? It’s time to focus on the actionable insights.