Analytics - It's simpler than you think

For the next few days I have the pleasure of attending Qlik’s annual event, Qonnections, a four-day rollercoaster ride of data and analytics on the information super highway. Last night, I met up with our Qlik UK Partner Manager (the excellent Joe Branston) and some of his colleagues. Over a rather tasty if a little worryingly monikered glass of Florida’s own “Gator Drool” IPA the initial “Hello’s” and “How do you do’s” inevitably gravitated towards discussions about data.

I had a thoroughly thought-provoking chat with Joe’s Swedish equivalent (partner manager for the Nordic countries). In fact, it was so engrossing that I forgot his name, so for this post I’ll just have to refer to him as “Swedish Guy”. Anyway, we got chatting about my recent webinar around reporting, business intelligence and analytics and what the main differences are between them (You can sign up for the next two BI webinars here!).

Now Swedish Guy has worked with Sweden’s two finest known exports (besides Qlik of course) – no prizes for guessing who but yes, it is Volvo and Ikea, who both embraced a data culture and rely heavily on Qlik for all their data driven decisions. Anyway, as you do after an eight-hour flight and a pint of Gator Drool, the very term “analytics” became the subject of our attention and scrutiny.

The term “data analytics” can sound quite daunting some businesses. For a start, it may conjure up images of a relatively small (yet no doubt expensive) team of MIT graduates writing algorithms which, if left to their own devices, could probably predict what you are going to buy x days from now, where you will buy it and how much money you will be willing to part with for it. Now all of that is probably true and yes, the average person would either be terrified, impressed or more than likely a little mixture of both.

The fact is, that sort of stuff is only a small part of the analytics spectrum. In Sweden, they use a different term for Analytics, it is simply termed “Decision Support”. For me this is a far better definition of what we do with data at TSG (both for ourselves and our customers). Decision Support or Analytics, call it what you will, is simply the process and practice of collecting relevant data and presenting it in a way that will support decisions across the business to ensure they are the right ones. The success of those decisions can then be measured. We all want to make less bad decisions and more good decisions, right?

Let me give you an example. I’m hoping to go on holiday this year (Somewhere with a bit of Sun, but not a beach holiday). Now before I part with my hard-earned cash I want as much fact-based evidence as possible. So, I will collect as much “data” about where I might go as possible. The key thing is I will very rarely use one source of information. Sure, Trip Advisor is a great start, but I will also collect my “facts” from as many credible sources as I can. Whether this will be from a travel agent or simply asking a friend or colleague, the more data I have, the more informed and accurate decision I will make, which ultimately leads to a favorable outcome (i.e. a great holiday).

Put in a business context, the idiom still holds true. If I am making a business decision, such as opening a new office, discontinuing, or perhaps investing in a product, I need to follow the same process. The outcome of my decision, of course, can be very different and potentially much more damaging/rewarding than simply having a bad holiday like in my example above. It therefore becomes important to ensure a business can collect credible data (either internally or outside the business), process it efficiently and present it in a compelling way. Only then can you start relying on data regularly for “decision support”.

To make this happen, you need two things. The right culture and the right tools. Over the next few days I hope to learn a little more about how we can better help our customers make better decisions based on data. It’s something that every business can do, it’s just a case of taking that first step.