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It All Begins With a Question

Guest blog post by Gordon Laing, Author at Barrachd.

In this guest blog post, Gordon Laing from Barrachd discusses the importance of having clear focus and asking the right questions as a vital first step in a succesful analytics project.

The problem with this blog post is that it lacks a clear focus. I mean, it’ll probably bump along nicely, dissecting the prevalent points of data analytics, adding a few surprises here and there while, no doubt, implanting some sage words of wisdom. It doesn’t really have an objective, but I’m excited about the outcome nonetheless.

Such a meandering approach is unfortunately typical of many data-driven projects.

But ask any data analytics expert how businesses can start to harness the real power of their data and they’ll give you a simple answer.

In fact, I did ask a handful of Barrachd’s very own analytics gurus that very question. The answer I got was a question.

That is, they would ask a question. “What do you really need to know before it’s too late?” And it’s this focus that is key to the success of any business analytics project.

Analytics specialists often offer insight of epic proportions. “Finding patterns in data”, “unlocking insights” (… it’s almost impossible to read that without adopting a dramatic Hollywood voice. “Expect the unexpected”. That last one’s from Barrachd’s very own homepage). But without a focus too much time gets wasted aimlessly “wandering about” amid the data, trying to see what there is to discover.

Now, you might think that limiting the parameters of possibility with such a clear focus would hamper the discovery of insight. But the opposite is true. Forrester’s Martha Bennett likens the process to a Google search – looking for an answer to a question, changing the terms of your search to bring back different results, while the initial goal remains the same.

In short, all these awesome insights only with come with a clear focus. And only once the problem has been identified can the solution be implemented.

Until recently, organisations have been guilty of hoarding data, measuring success in terabytes rather than insights. But business has become smarter, realising that it’s not data that’s lacking, but understanding. And the ‘c-suite’ are awakening to this realisation.

Speak to any of our customers. They’ll agree. What they weren’t missing was information, just meaning.

Data for the sake of data is an academic exercise, though. It needs to be actionable to be of value. This means data needs to be accessible, current and accurate at the decision point. All too often though this information is stuck in CRM, ERP or finance systems. Languishing in Excel hell or buried in disparate silos, accessing and getting meaning from this data takes too long, leaving businesses guessing at the true picture. Our job is to make sure that businesses know if they are about to run out of stock, miss an opportunity or lose a customer.

Analytics drive business forward but it’s up to the individual to use the available data to create new business opportunities. Only by putting this insight in the hands of employees do we allow innovation to occur.

To this note, the buy-in of stakeholders can be crucial to the success of any data-led initiative. Engagement is vital to the success of most projects. Focus. Again.

That’s why those that utilise business analytics aren’t just looking for insight, they’re looking for their insight to be presented in a visual, easy to understand format “ facilitating this wider buy-in and encouraging more discovery and investigation. And, in an increasingly “always on” world, the insight needs to be at their fingertips – an at-a-glance view with the power to drill down further into the data no matter where they are.

In fact, we work with one CEO who claims that his analytics dashboard is the first thing he now looks at in the morning, even before his shower, shave and… anyway… This awakening to the real insight that business analytics offers has intensified the spotlight on data.

In its raw form data can be complicated, though. Our aim should be to make it simple, to solve problems and inform.

To do this, a clear focus is needed from the start. It all begins with a question; analytics is just the best way to get the answers “ before it’s too late.

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