Bringing the future to the present

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~ Contributed by Jens Olivarius ~

Wednesday at The Premier Business Leadership Series in Berlin, Futurist Thornton May challenged a group of international business executives with this question: Has the way people think about analytics changed over time?

The response was a resounding yes, but for several different reasons. Yes, due to increased competition and the need to identify competitive advantages. Yes, due to new tools providing new capabilities. Yes, due to a desire to not just look at the past, but also to understand the future. And yes, due to a vast amount of unstructured data (think social media, rich media, etc.) possibly bringing new information.

Whether in retail banking, insurance, energy or hospitality, the executives agreed on the potential of business analytics to transform their businesses. Despite where they are on their individual journeys to weave analytics into the fabric of their business, they all shared perspectives on clearly defining the role of the analyst vis-a-vis other supporting functions like IT, for instance. Moreover, it is clear that analytics on its own will not bring change; it needs to be accompanied by compelling stories. Stories bring context to the analysis and reason to act.

One example involved a Middle East bank that discovered, using analytics, that a large enterprise customer believed to be the most profitable customer -- and treated as such -- was indeed much less profitable than a smaller oil and gas company that was hardly being catered to at all. What analytic stories are being told in your organization? How are they impacting your actions? And what new questions are they driving you to ask?

Thornton May argues that, “The questions we ask about the future will bias the answers we get.” Are we indeed asking the right questions?

A great starting point is to set your eyes on where you would like to be in the future and structure the problem accordingly. Through this you will learn new things that will prompt new questions, which in turn will shape your analytics journey.

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About Author

Alison Bolen

Editor of Blogs and Social Content

+Alison Bolen is an editor at SAS, where she writes and edits content about analytics and emerging topics. Since starting at SAS in 1999, Alison has edited print publications, Web sites, e-newsletters, customer success stories and blogs. She has a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from Ohio University and a master’s degree in technical writing from North Carolina State University.

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