BA no longer preserve of maths and stats buffs

Access to business analytical tools shouldn't be reserver for top-level managers

The role of business analytics as a key element in business strategy and tactics is changing, says author and SAS product manager Evan Stubbs. It is becoming at the same time more critical to the organisation’s competitive success and more “democratised” – people at all levels and in all parts of the company need to use it and create value from it, he told the SAS Users of New Zealand conference is Wellington recently.

Analytics is no longer the preserve of a specialist cadre who directly understand maths and statistics, Stubbs says; nor should access to business analytical tools be reserved for top-level managers.

BA has potential to add value in “so many areas of the business” he says, “whether it is in pricing, customer relationships, risk, fraud detection, even occupational health and safety.” In all areas a competent analysis of what’s going on now can identify both problems and opportunities for the future.

Stubbs defines analytics as “any data-driven process that creates insight” – a far-wider definition than most people have in mind. When surveyed by IDC as to which software tools they thought of as part of BA, 75 percent of a sample of business people cited the advanced parts of the discipline, such as data mining. Few considered, for example, the generation and management of data warehouses to be part of BA, but according to Stubbs’s definition it is.

The use of BA doesn’t, of course, end with the insight, he says; more mature organisations use the knowledge to drive change in operational processes. The end purpose can be to improve profitability or operational efficiency and ultimately to create value. Increasingly, the most mature organisations use analytics to help create competitive differentiation.

As organisations become more complex, BA can no longer be applied in isolation in one department, Stubbs says. What is found and applied in one part of the company will affect and have lessons for the way other parts of the organisation operate. “Analytics is becoming a team sport.”

These interconnections demand a different set of skills from the analyst - no longer just statistical. “You have not only to understand business; you’ve got to understand the industry, your competition and intra-organisational politics.”

Such a combination of skills is difficult to find anywhere and virtually impossible to cultivate across a number of different business units in the company, Stubbs says.

But democratisation should be persevered with; “it is not a bad thing; it is a very good thing,” he says; adding as a strong footnote “as long as it is properly managed”.

Managing the use of analytics implies training the people who will use it, but also enhancing the products to make them easier for these people to use. Increase automation and “system smarts”, he says, and “establish focused interfaces to support varying skills levels.”

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