The human element of business analytics

I recommend the book Business Analytics for Managers: Taking Business Intelligence Beyond Reporting for managers who want a strategic view on what it takes to create ongoing value from data.

To tap into more of the strategic thinking in this book, I asked authors Gert Laursen and Jesper Thorlund a few questions. I’ll be publishing their responses in two separate posts here. In this first of the two-part series, the authors explain how analysts help cross the chasm between business and technology.

Anne: What one or two things inspired you to write this book?

Gert Laursen and Jesper Thorlund

Gert and Jesper: One, we think that business analytics is more than a technical solution. In our work as consultants, we have often experienced business analytics (BA) as purely an IT discipline, driven primarily by the organization’s technical environment. This results in business analytics initiatives that float aimlessly. In our opinion, successful BA initiatives are always closely interlinked with the organization’s strategy (mission, vision, and goals) and are put in place to strengthen the ability of business processes to move in the right direction toward business objectives. Unfortunately, these points are often overlooked, and this is one of the reasons for this book.

Also, we were inspired by the simple fact that we have seen companies spend millions on hardware, but still would not employ analysts. This—combined with our experience that shows that company turnarounds can be made via analytics—continuously reminded us that information management is a valid strategic path to chose.

And reason number two: to see business analytics as a cross-functional process. We also wanted to position the analyst/controller as a key person in business analytics activities since he or she is a cross-functional person who holds all the strings together. This is because of the analyst/controller’s presence in both the business-driven environment and the technically oriented environment. And, the analyst usually has the needed insight into processes and strategies in the business-driven environment, as well as the necessary technical insight, to be able to enter into a constructive dialogue with the data warehouse and IT department. It seems to us that companies need to focus more on the human element of an information system like analytical methodologies and competencies.

Anne: Why did you want to work with SAS Press in publishing your book on business analytics?

Gert and Jesper: We both are experienced SAS users and part of the global SAS user community and are familiar with SAS products and SAS Press. Over the years, we have read various books published by SAS Press and were never disappointed. Also, the fact that SAS Press has strong ties to the education sector (universities and business schools) convinced us that it was the right channel for us. All in all, SAS Press seemed the best publisher to us considering who we wanted to target as readers.

Anne: For any given industry, do you think most organizations now view reporting as necessary but not sufficient? And are looking to have more of an information strategy? Or do you think the majority of organizations still struggle with the basics?

Gert and Jesper: As consultants, we have learned that many companies are still struggling with the basics like establishing a data warehouse, improving their data quality and identifying one version of the truth, and so on. It requires a high level of maturity for your information systems and your corporate culture to be an analytical competitor, and many are not there yet. We think that many companies look forward to applying more advanced information to create competitive advantages in business and probably feel inadequate.

It seems to us that they do not know what to focus on. Since it all starts with some technical elements that must be in place, it does unfortunately also often end as a technical discipline only. On the other hand, we know from companies like Facebook and Google what can be accomplished. This, we believe, creates a sense of being insufficient and realizing the need for more knowledge. This is really the need we want to address with our book.

Anne: Given the number of effective visuals you include in your book, can you comment on the importance of visually displaying information to help decision makers understand key concepts?

Click to enlarge "The Stairways Chart"

Gert and Jesper: Since the book presents new concepts, we believe that the book’s visual elements are very important. When we developed the concepts, we were concerned they would be too complex if we could not present them in a simple manner. Of course, the concepts would also be complex to the readers since a good visual tells more than thousand words. For example, we included the Stairways Chart in our book, and we are pleased to hear from readers that it has helped them understand the important difference between analytics and traditional business intelligence.

Also, we believe that people are able to remember visual presentation much better and for a longer time. In order to create a good product—the book which is about creating sustainable knowledge—you need to give considerable thought about how you convey the information.

Anne: Thank you Gert and Jesper for answering my questions. Readers, check back next week for the second half of this interview, where the authors describe common pitfalls on the path to becoming an analytic organization – and some ways to overcome these challenges.

tags: analytics, anne milley, business analytics, sas publishing

One Comment

  1. Jan Nidendam
    Posted November 11, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    My best compliments for this project guys! Your book allow me to better study IT - I found what I was always watching for - a mix of business and IT and I've discovered it here.

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  1. [...] of the book, Business Analytics for Managers: Taking Business Intelligence Beyond Reporting. Part one covered data visualization and the cross-functional purpose of business analytics. Here, we talk [...]

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