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February 8, 2017

Encouraging a Culture of Curiosity, Improvement and Innovation

GAPS WITHIN TRADITIONAL BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE

In the early part of this decade, it was hard to find a story about corporate IT that didn’t touch on the idea of big data and data analytics. The ability to rapidly harness the vast amounts of data distributed across multiple systems and networks was exciting for business leaders. Business intelligence (BI) has delivered tremendous value to organizations, enabling more and better data-based decision making. However, the pace of change and speed to make decisions in daily business has outpaced the ability of traditional BI to answer new questions immediately.

Most existing data analytics capabilities aren’t responsive enough to quickly address the new, creative questions most likely to be asked by leaders in a position to bring true innovation to the business. Highly skilled IT developers and data scientists with deep analytical experience are often the only people able to fully access and process data and turn it into meaningful information. And the current shortage of top analytics talent means that the traditional approach to working with data won’t scale with the continued, explosive growth in data quantity, size and complexity.

It’s easy to see how this issue can become a business frustration. The right data is there, but technical support is necessary to access and interpret it. Standard IT procedures and processes take time – which makes the wait for a burning question to deliver actionable insights seem interminable. And all the while, business moves on. Windows are missed. Opportunities evaporate.

There are several reasons why it is so difficult to get the right visualization of the right data in front of the right people at the right time. Data visualizations can be complex, hard to digest and provide information to answer already identified business questions. Business leaders often get stuck at the dashboard–or between multiple dashboards–unable to answer their ever-evolving questions. IT professionals are caught up in other day-to-day responsibilities and cannot sit at the right hand of the business users to translate his/her questions into usable analytics. As the amount of data produced for, by and about today’s businesses will only continue to grow, a new approach is in order.


THE SOLUTION: SEARCH POWERED ANALYTICS

What businesses need is a transformative tool that augments traditional business intelligence structures with systems that automatically turn plain language questions into usable queries and results. This is the basis of search powered analytics.

Enabled by business subject matter experts to ensure that the results are as relevant as possible, search powered analytics tools empower business users to ask questions about enterprise data and get instant answers without the help of a technician. Users type or speak their business question the way they would ask a person or phrase it in a search engine. As the user is typing, the system instantaneously provides feedback and suggestions based on its knowledge of the underlying data until the user submits their question. The system then automatically translates that question into a query, retrieves the data answering the question, and makes an intelligent decision on how to display the information. Answers appear, often with charts, graphs or maps that enable users to recognize trends and drill down for deeper insights. Visualizations can be changed or questions can be modified to show results in different ways, often enabling the user to recognize key nuances and make faster, better-informed decisions.

The right search powered analytics tool can help today’s businesses:

  • Dramatically reduce the issue of “dashboard paralysis,” in which users find themselves asking a question that their dashboard is not set up to address
  • Make data more accessible to executives, without forcing them to also become information technology/analytics professionals
  • Enable individuals to access, refine and drill down through data without requiring a time-consuming, iterative development process


MOVE BEYOND DASHBOARDS TO ENHANCE ORGANIZATIONAL CURIOSITY

While search powered analytics give real-time business intelligence to executives, it is important to keep in mind that the organizational advantages of such a system go well beyond the technology itself. A system that enables plain-language access to data and visual representations of complex queries also encourages a “culture of questioning” or “culture of curiosity.” By enabling executives to query data in their own words, without having to funnel their questions through a limited dashboard or an IT professional who acts as a translator, they can think more creatively. Indeed, experts in the Harvard Business Review believe that when questioning and curiosity are encouraged and supported, creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and achievement flourish.1

By extending search powered analytics deeper into the organization, smart leaders can ingrain the qualities associated with questioning and curiosity into the company’s DNA.

It is important to understand that search powered analytics should be thought of as one tool in a company’s overall business intelligence and analytics strategy. Even when a myriad of dashboards and reports are available, they are not sufficient to cover all the likely questions that will arise in day-to-day business. For example, a leading ecommerce company believed its analytics needs were being met with traditional reporting and dashboards. However, the company’s newly installed search powered analytics tool is responding to approximately 2,000 questions per month, suggesting that a search powered analytics solution fills a need not filled by traditional reporting, and unleashes curiosity previously bottled up by frustrated processes and limited tools.

Traditional business intelligence processes and tools reside in the structured environment of IT organizations whose expert users and developers build primary visualizations and tend to have superficial relationships with the company’s data. Reports and dashboards are configured to the requirements of the organization’s “power users” and the data is generally not available outside the limited business decision makers for whom the visualizations were created. search powered analytics provides a powerful addition to the business intelligence landscape. With search powered analytics, information can be accessed by a broad range of individuals inside and outside the organization including front-line workers.

For smaller organizations with very limited to no BI capabilities, search powered analytics can be an excellent solution to rapidly move them along the BI maturity curve. And for some organizations, a search-based solution could be the only tool in their BI ecosphere.

Traditional business intelligence and search powered analytics are not mutually exclusive. Together, they can help organizations create a culture of curiosity and questioning, which ultimately builds a community of innovation and new ideas.

STEPS TO PLANNING AND COMPLETING A SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION


As powerful as search powered analytics can be for businesses, the key to success is planning and implementation, which includes attention to technology as well as the people who will be using it and the processes that will drive usage.

Step 1: Determine Opportunities and Fit. Evaluate how search powered analytics will best fit within the existing data analytics framework of your organization. This includes a thorough audit of technology, talent and processes, including:

  • What kind of analytics are already employed throughout the organization?
  • Who uses them? How and how successfully are they being used?
  • What questions are being asked today, and who is asking them?
  • What questions are not being asked that could or should be?
  • Who needs to be asking those questions?

Additionally, if you are looking to establish or strengthen a culture of curiosity within the organization, how will search powered analytics affect different areas of the organization (e.g., Operations, Sales, Marketing, Manufacturing, Research, Investor Relations, Customer Service, etc.)?


Step 2: Understand Your Analytics Capabilities and Limitations. The next step is to understand what search powered analytics does well – and what it does not. For instance, search powered analytics solutions require the use of common terminology and semantics. They support queries in the form of plain language questions. And, they support an evolving line of questioning. While the capabilities of search powered analytics systems are evolving rapidly, they currently do not address predictive analytics, nor do they offer decisions based on query results – that level of interpretation and decision making is still best conducted by knowledgeable individuals within the organization. However, search powered analytics can support advanced analytics such as cohort analysis, correlations and benchmarking. Organizations can extend the capabilities of the system to meet its custom needs.

Critically, successful search powered analytics implementations require a robust foundational infrastructure, including data governance, a centralized data warehouse, data quality, and the creation of sound semantic and domain layers (which provide aliases for data fields as well as information about how fields are related and their types and values). One side effect of search powered analytics is that it provides autonomy without anarchy because it forces agreement on what words mean and how they relate to data.

Step 3: Design User Experience. One important key to a successful implementation of search powered analytics capabilities is a well-designed and intuitive user experience. Designers should seek to understand the way in which users will navigate the search process and the tools they are accustomed to – both within existing internal dashboards and external applications.

Step 4: Convert Common Language to Business Terms. It is critical to define the “Lingua Franca” of the company, including industry and corporate terminology, acronyms and slang, and ensure that the new tool accurately maps plain language to terms found in the data and the data structure.

Step 5: Establish Process Improvements/Enhancements. Concurrent with systems implementation planning, it is equally important to consider how search powered analytics is likely to affect existing processes surrounding technology usage and innovation. Our experience has shown us that many existing processes will warrant examination and revision, especially when these new solutions are added as part of an overall plan to establish or strengthen a culture of curiosity.



REMOVE TODAY’S ROADBLOCKS AND ADVANCE INNOVATION

Clearly, search powered analytics can enable forward-thinking companies to dramatically advance their abilities to innovate, improve and advance – but success depends on much more than simply buying a new tool and installing it. Successful organizations will achieve the greatest advantages from this exciting new technology with the right planning steps and partnership, including attention to processes and people, as well as technology.

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