Analytics executives will use

inlytica, llc

Since the beginnings of the data revolution, a lack of executive buy-in has been blamed for the slow progress in establishing a so-called “analytics culture”. Business executives, the theory goes, are not “data literate”. They do not trust data and do not feel confident accessing it. If they could just be educated on the importance of analytics and given access to a business intelligence platform, they would throw away their hesitancy and drive data initiatives to every part of their organization.

As someone who works almost exclusively with senior leaders, this is absolutely NOT my experience. Since the 1990’s, messaging around the ability of data and Business Intelligence to transform the way that organizations are managed has been impossible to miss or ignore. And, it is a very rare executive now who has not been presented with access to the corporate analytics platform.

I’ve found that the real reason that executives do not use data in their day to day lives is simple: the systems that deliver it do not work for them.

Somehow, the term “Analytics” has become synonymous with “Dashboards” and, by extension, Executive Analytics have become “Dashboards delivered to Executives”. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with dashboards,they often do not work for leaders who spend the vast majority of their time attending meetings (often at remote locations), preparing and delivering presentations, and, above all, making decisions that directly impact the future of the organization.

To be useful to senior business leaders information must be delivered in a form that is:

One thing almost every organizational leader has in common is that they do their jobs on the move. The typical executive’s day is filled with meetings which often involve traveling from one location to another. So, analysts cannot expect them to be at their computer searching for information. Instead, information needs to be immediately available wherever the executive is and accessible over whatever device they may be using at the time. In fact, information will often need to find the executive rather than the opposite.

There is no one best approach to making analytics accessible. Information can be delivered via web-enabled on-demand applications and / or pushed to messaging channels, text, email, etc. It can be automatically inserted into spreadsheets that update slide decks. It can even be sent to executive assistants who know when, where and how to reach the person who needs it. The delivery method and technology is really dependent only on the preferences of those who require the information.

Executives need only the information that is most relevant to their jobs and they need it in an easily digestible form. They will generally expect far fewer, but much more impactful, analytical elements. And, they will likely be more interested in predictions about outcomes rather than “after the fact measurements” of the outcomes themselves.

Visualization design can be challenging because, rather than attempting to interpret a single metric, leaders will want to see meaningful changes displayed in context. This context could include factors like seasonality, benchmarks, and potential implications for the future.

Executive’s priorities are ever changing and determining what information to deliver should be a continuous exercise in working backwards from each leader’s individual decision making processes and current needs.

Executives who make decisions that directly affect the future of their organization need the most up to date information possible. One of the major difficulties in creating executive analytics is making sure that data is produced, extracted, verified, transformed and delivered in as close to real time as possible. While this is often not feasible for enterprise data loads, it may be achievable for the subsets of data that individual executives must access. What this subset of data consists of and how up-to-date it should be is, again, dependent on the executive, their decision making process and information needs.

In addition to the on-demand needs for updated information, leaders will desire timely alerts when significant changes occur. Whether or not a change is significant will depend on the amount of movement in a metric and the effect that movement may have on that executive’s initiatives. As with all of the above, the amount of alerts, what they convey, and how often they occur should be highly individualized. Very often, too many alerts are more detrimental than too few.

Untrustworthy information is the most often cited reason for the lack of use of analytics among executives. And with good reason. Inaccuracies can lead to disastrous decisions and public embarrassment.

Ensuring that data is accurate and reliably produced is only the first step when constructing an executive analytics program. When working with senior leadership, analysts must go to great lengths to ensure that accurate data is not presented in a misleading way or in a context that may be mis-understood. This is particularly challenging because executives are not often familiar with the intricacies of the department that is producing the data and, in fact, may have preconceived ideas about the information they are viewing.

Because analysts themselves may not be intimately involved with a particular business unit, they should work with senior departmental leaders to ensure that any potential for ambiguity has been eliminated.

Ultimately, the key to delivering useful intelligence to organizational leaders will be discarding the idea that analytics is defined and constrained by a particular technology (such as a BI Platform). Executive Analytics will often consist of a mesh of systems and platforms working together to deliver the reliable, individualized information that executives need, when they need it, and where they need it.

This can be extremely challenging and will likely require dedicated leadership from a senior member of the Business Intelligence team. This team member should be someone who has established interpersonal skills and interdepartmental relationships as well as technical knowledge.

While the informational demands from executive leaders can be difficult to meet, the payoff to the data team will be increased buy-in for other initiatives and an elevated status within the organization.

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