Nearly three decades ago, Pat Riley was on his way to coaching the Los Angeles Lakers to a series of NBA championships. At the time, a reporter asked Riley how he determined who to play. The writer asked Riley whether he relied on field goals, assists and rebounds during the game as metrics. Riley actually said no. He said he didn’t really look at any of the common statistics—but instead, he used what he called an “effort index.” The effort index was not something an official scorekeeper tracked, so Riley had one of his assistant coaches manually track who went up for the ball at both ends of the floor. The theory was that the team exerting the most effort under the basket at both ends of the court was going to win the game—so he was identifying the “difference makers” who might not turn up in any of the official statistics, but who were facilitating the situation most advantageous for the team.
Enterprises are discovering similar dynamics as they add business analytics to their IT solution mix. It is easy to make the purchase commitment and install a new analytics solution—but once you’re there, how do you come up with extraordinary insights and convert them into questions that will really give you a competitive edge?
It’s a challenge. At least one supply chain analytics vendor told me recently that the “ask the right question” problem with many new clients is so severe that his company now mandates a major training engagement as part of its standard product implementation. “We had to do this, or clients would soon reach a point where they would be wondering what they were getting out of the product,” he told me. He went on to say that the first request a new client makes after the analytics are installed is to reproduce the suite of 20 or so reports that the client has faithfully used over the past ten years. This is in contrast with a large enterprise that foresaw trouble with logistics when the volcano in Iceland erupted in 2010, and quickly chartered every available form of transportation (except planes, which were grounded)—and never missed an order delivery, while competitors were reeling. The company simply had asked the right questions, and its analytics delivered.
Being able to ask the right questions is a major impetus behind best of class business analytics—but it comes at a time when the Lloyd’s Risk Index for 2011 ranked “talent and skills shortages” second behind “loss of customers” as the most pressing risk for businesses http://ebn.benefitnews.com/news/unemployment-lloyds-risk-index-talent-skills-2720459-1.html. Last week I visited with Mike Ray, who is Vice President of Business Integration and Strategy for IBM, and who heads up IBM’s internal supply chain. When I asked Ray about best practices, he said without hesitation, “We invest in the best and the brightest people, and then focus on training in order to protect our investment in our people. None of the complexity of today’s supply chain can be managed without talent.”
For now though, what enterprises want—and what schools are delivering—appear to be two different things. Just a little over one year ago, a New York University study revealed that many college graduates had failed to develop critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills after four years in college http://www.npr.org/2011/02/09/133310978/in-college-a-lack-of-rigor-leaves-students-adrift.
This is why CIOs tasked with implementing and collaborating on business analytics systems in key areas of the business also need to examine their organizations’ strength in critical thinking and business analytics talent—because if the talent isn’t there, there is heightened risk that the system isn’t going to work.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and marketing/public relations firm. Her technology experience includes positions as vice president of Software Development at Summit Information Systems, a financial systems software company, and vice president of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multi-national semiconductor company. She has been actively involved in the publishing industry for more than 20 years as an editor and writer. Voice: 360-956-9536; Email: TWD_Transworld@msn.com