Organizations have become good at finding answers to questions. Where they need to improve is in asking the right questions, according to Dries Van Nieuwenhuyse, General Manager Performance Management USG People Interservices NV.
“IT people tend to be applied scientists whose job is to answer specific questions but in analytics, we need pure scientists,” he said at The Premier Business Leadership Series Insight Session, "Business Performance, Processes and Systems."
Organizational hierarchies tend to reinforce the problem because when IT people move upwards, they take the operational and tactical tools with them, and these are generally not well suited to addressing strategic challenges. At USG People, a supplier of temp labor services, they decided to think top-down, from the perspective of the business leaders. “What kind of information do they want?” they asked, and more proactively, “What kind of information should they be asking for?”
Often, the data at USG People was financial and would not provide answers to these key questions. For example, if the goal is to analyze information to optimize sales, looking at invoice information is not much use: it gave the impression that sales were flat in the first three weeks of the month and then shot up in the fourth. You have to look at the sales calls and even here you need to think what questions a VP of Sales would want to ask, because the key actions may (for example) have been the calls that were made weeks before the sale was closed.
His advice: think of your analysts as a team of sled dogs. There is always one that sets the pace for the rest of the team (typically an alpha female). That’s your proactive thinker, the scientist: the one who asks the awkward – even naughty – questions.