The demand for data analysts is at an all-time high, but organizations don't always get the value they expect, mainly because the organization, or parts of it, are getting in the way.
Being an analyst can be a frustrating job if your position isn't getting what it needs in terms of data, tools and organizational support. Are you getting what you need? Here are some of the things your contemporaries are saying.
Despite the glut of data companies have, analysts don't always get the data they need, often because the data owners are concerned about privacy, security, losing control of their data or some combination of those things.
"The problem of data ownership and data sharing is universal," said Sam Ruchlewicz, director of Digital Strategy & Data Analytics at advertising, digital, PR and brand agency Warschawski. "For analytics professionals, these artificial barriers hinder the creation of comprehensive, whole-organization analyses that can provide real, tangible value and serve as a catalyst for the creation (and funding) of additional analytics programs."
Jesse Tutt, program lead of the IT Analytics Center of Excellence at Alberta Health Services said getting access to the data he needs takes a lot of time because he has to work with the data repository owners to get their approval and then work with the technologists to get access to the systems. He also has to work with the vendors and the data repository subject matter experts.
"We've worked really hard getting access to the data sets, correlating the different datasets using correlation tables and cleaning up the data within the source systems," he said. "If you ask a specific set or data repository what something is, it can tell you, but if you can snapshot it on a monthly basis you can see a trend. If you correlate that across other systems, you can find more value. In our case, the highest value is connecting the system and creating the capability in a data warehouse, reporting you can correlate across the systems.
Four years ago, people at Alberta Health Services wanted to see trend data instead of just snapshots, so one system was connected to another. Now, 60 connected data sources are connected with 60 more planned by the end of 2017. The company has a total of about 1,600 data sources, many of which will be connected in the next couple of years.
The most effective data analytics align with business objectives, but what happens when your data analysts aren't informed? Warschawski's Ruchlewicz recently had dinner with the CEO of a large, international agency who spent millions of dollars on a marketing campaign that failed simply because the executive didn't want to listen to "the analytics kids." Never mind the fact that the analytics team had identified a major issue the target audience had with the client's brand.
"[The CEO] dismissed them as analytics kids who didn’t know what they were talking about and proceeded to launch the campaign," said Ruchlewicz. "Only later, after millions of dollars in spending (with no results to show for it), did the CEO allow them to make their case and implement their recommendations."
Ultimately, their recommendations turned the campaign around. Ruchlewicz said.
"I wish this as a one-off story. It’s not. I wish this was confined to 'old school' companies. It’s not," said Ruchlewicz. "Until analytics teams are given a seat at the table where decisions are made, analytics will continue to be undervalued and underappreciated across the entire organization."
Analysts have to earn respect like anyone else, however. That requires communicating to business professionals in business terms.
"Executives and investors today are hyper-focused on the bottom line, and most that I’ve interacted with perceive analytics as a line item expenditure," said Ruchlewicz. "[A]nalytics professionals need to take the first step toward resolution. There are several methods that allow the creation of a rigorous, defensible first approximation, which is sufficient to get the conversation started (and usually, some data shared)."
To help turn the tide, analytics practitioners are well-advised present information and construct business cases around their activities.
If everyone in the organization used the same terminology for everything, always had the right database fields accessible, and always entered data correctly and in the same manner, some enterprise data would be much cleaner than it is today. However, the problem doesn't stop there
"If a person says, 'I want an analytical tool,' how do you group that and do trending on it when a person may call it one of the 100 different analytical tool names or they'll say I need to do analysis on data? The words the submit are often different from what they actually want," said Alberta Health Services' Tutt
Tutt and his team are endeavoring to better understand what people are requesting in service desk tickets so the company can manage its software investments more effectively. Now that his team has access to the different systems, they know who's using a product and when they used it. They're looking at the problem from a Robotics Process Automation (RPA) perspective so software can be automatically removed if it hasn't been used in a certain time period.
More Power to Affect Change
Industry analysts are pushing back on "data-driven" mantras because they think companies should be "insight-driven." While they have a valid point, insights without action have little value.
For example, a large U.S. health provider has a massive analytics team that's generating highly-actionable insights, but those insights are not being acted upon by the business. They can meet with a functional unit such as risk or compliance and show them insights. The operating unit will say, "That's interesting," but there's no way to connect insights and action.
"The data teams are frustrated because they're not getting the operational support they need," said Adam Nathan, CEO and Founder of analytics strategy firm The Bartlett System. "The data teams don't know how to drive that, except to get frustrated and quiet and get more value elsewhere. I think the tipping point will come when the company realizes it's falling behind competitors. They'll realize the company isn't getting the value it could from analytics and that will put pressure on them to do something with those insights."