The soul of analytics redux!


A few days ago, I wrote a post on the "soul" of analytics - basically the careful balance we need to keep between qualitative and quantitative decision-making. I asked others to post their experiences and perspective, and I was fortunate enough to begin a "dia-blog" with Colonel Jim Markley, Director of Science & Technology at the US Army War College. I wanted to share his reply to my original post in a broader forum, because he so eloquently reminds us of the importance of context in our decision-making:

"I do think that when lives are on the line the “soul” or considered thought of analysis is much more important than when lives are on the line. There is something that defines us as humans that tells us that the analysis doesn’t tell the whole story. Analysts, if they are honest with themselves, understand that all analysis contains uncertainty, either by design, the limits of the data used, or our inability to articulate and account for all the variables. Some senior decision makers have a firm grip on the analysis and some don’t. When the issues involves something less than a human life, many senior decision makers will “go with the numbers.”

As soon as a life or even the quality of someone’s life is at stake, the number and the analysis alone are not enough.

One of the mistakes my junior (or new) analysts would make would be to crunch the numbers and present the analysis as the final product. They missed, what I called, the “so what” of the analysis. E.g. 54 percent of Iraqis believe X about the U.S. So what? Is that good or bad, better or worse? Do we have a trend developing? Are we trying to get them to think X about the U.S.? If so, what is it we are doing? Is there a correlation between our efforts and this number?

They didn’t have the experience yet to think about the implication of the analysis. They put no “soul” into it. In spite of everything analysts think about the work they do, the numbers rarely “speak for themselves.” If you can’t articulate what they mean in the context of the organizational mission, what good are they? Thinking through the implications, impact, or “so what” of the analysis requires a little analytical “soul.”"

Thank you, Colonel, for your qualitative insight, and I hope you'll join us for many other conversations!

Happy and safe holidays to everyone!


About Author

Rachel Alt-Simmons

Business Transformation Lead - Customer Intelligence Practice

Rachel Alt-Simmons is a business transformation practitioner whose expertise extends to operationalizing analytic capabilities vertically and horizontally through organizations. As the Business Transformation Lead for customer analytics at SAS Institute, she is responsible for redesign and optimization of operational analytic workflow, business process redesign, training/knowledge transfer, and change management strategies for customers. Prior to SAS, Rachel served as Assistant Vice President, Center of Excellence, Enterprise Business Intelligence & Analytics at Travelers, and as Director, BI & Analytics, Global Wealth Management at The Hartford. Rachel Alt-Simmons is a certified Project Management Professional, certified Agile Practitioner, Six Sigma Black Belt, certified Lean Master, and holds a post as adjunct professor of computer science at Boston University’s Metropolitan College. She received her master’s degree in Computer Information Systems from Boston University.

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