IT Management

Business Intelligence guru, analyst and author, Wayne Eckerson, and I had great times when we worked together at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI). He’s a great writer and I particularly enjoyed the first chapter of his most recent book, Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders, where he talks about the concept of “purple people.” But before I explain that, read this concept from his book.

People who live at the confluence of disparate approaches and opinions have a broader perspective. They see connections and possibilities that others miss. They speak multiple languages and gracefully move between different groups and norms. They continuously translate, synthesize and unify. As a result, they imagine new ways to solve old problems, and they reinvent old ways to tackle new challenges. They are powerful change agents and value creators.

In the world of analytics, I call these men and women “purple people.” They are not “blue” in the business or “red” in technology, but a blend of the two, hence purple. Purple people are true analytical leaders …

These interesting folks are “purple” not just from the blend of red and blue in their veins, but the collective experiences they have gone through. I believe they represent a new breed of corporate intelligence and likely will become the next generation of up-and-coming executives.

And here Wayne summarizes it in a nutshell…

In many organizations, business people and technologists move in different circles. There is a yawning cultural gulf between them: they speak different languages, report to different managers, socialize with different people, and have different career ambitions. Neither side trusts or particularly respects the other. Neither side understands the pressures, deadlines and challenges the other faces. They are at loggerheads. Only “purple people” can break this logjam.

… Purple people can speak the language of business and translate requirements into terms that technologists can understand. Conversely, they can show business people the latent value of data and how to exploit it through judicious investments in people, process and analytical technologies. Because purple people move comfortably in both camps, they serve as data ambassadors who reconcile business and IT and for a strong and lasting partnership that delivers true business value.

One question that comes up is how do you find these purple people? They are obviously extremely bright and hardworking folks who likely have strong résumés and a solid reputation in their current business or IT departmental roles. But are they willing to switch sides?

Think of a financial or economics analyst who joins a BI team and brings along a deep knowledge of the company’s finance and accounting nuances, including its people, processes, challenges and opportunities. Such a person can speak clearly and confidently when hashing out issues and clarifying requirements. They understand realistic priorities and also have vision for where things could go—if done right.

The Need for Green People

I also think we need some “green people.” Blue people are the business-savvy folks. Yellow people represent company executives who create concerns or are unwilling to be brave and give some things a try. They are pessimistic and want to see proof of the value of BI and Analytics but won’t give you the permission (or funding) to do a project to show them the value.

These fearful managers don’t have the courage to step into this new world that so many are now embracing. It is frustrating to have executives around who don’t recognize that running a data-driven business, with outstanding analytics, is good for business. It is your job as “green people” to constantly evangelize, market and sell the value of programs to these fearful or non-understanding executives. Getting approval for a Proof of Concept might be a good place to start.

The bottom line: be green and push things forward.