You have taken a close look at those less-than-stellar previous initiatives and analyzed the results against known critical success factors. The people involved were highly skilled in their respective areas, and the teams had the right skill sets. The approaches used were demonstrated, and the solutions were technically elegant and met the specifications well. Even the underlying processes were solid and followed the business rules. So why did these projects not meet your objectives, and how can you apply lessons you might learn to your analytics initiative?
Often, technology or process design is not a cause of failure with IT initiatives. Instead, it can be with something seemingly simpler, yet sometimes harder to obtain: failure to gain and keep executive buy-in. Executive buy-in is more than obtaining funding or approval for an initiative. It is about securing and nourishing an ongoing commitment for support and guidance for the project.
However, with an analytics initiative, the stakes can be even higher. Because the implementation of an analytics initiative will require a change in the way the organization thinks about decision-making, the concept of executive buy-in takes on a more critical meaning. For an analytics initiative, executive buy-in means that there is an executive-level commitment to shepherd the project through the inevitable political battles and to make the tough decisions regarding changes to business strategies, operating models, business processes, organizational structures and organizational culture that can occur as a result of the initiative.
Why Analytics is Different
Executive buy-in is crucial to meeting the objectives of any IT project, but there are several respects in which analytics initiatives have different requirements for buy-in from the C-suite. Since an analytics initiative can impact every part of the organization, it is absolutely critical to gain buy-in from the executives across the organization regarding the initiative’s ability to align with their individual objectives – and of those of the organization as a whole. Collaboration is key here. It will be necessary for the entire C-suite to be on board and to collaborate in the implementation of any analytics solution devised.
Analytics is also different in that it can require a significant change in the way business decisions are made, and as a result change management becomes a big issue. Many executives still rely on experience and “gut feel” to guide their decisions. Business intelligence information is crucial in decision-making, but if there is a conflict between information and intuition, intuition often wins.
However, in order for an analytics initiative to provide high value, the culture of the organization must shift to a fact-based decision-making model. Such a change can be best implemented from the top, because it often takes a strong executive push to get line-of-business management to change. In the end, though, if senior management sets the example and drives the process, behavioral changes can be established.
It will also be critical to gain buy-in to revise the skills matrix needed for IT. Analytics may require the acquisition of new skills sets or cause increased emphasis on existing skill sets and roles (such as statisticians and quantitative analysts) that are not normally visible within all parts of the organization. These people have the analysis skills to understand and leverage the sophisticated mathematical models that are typically found in analytics technologies. However, it is not enough to acquire analytical thinkers. Often, these great thinkers need “translators” to bridge the gap between the quantitative language of analysis and the qualitative language of business – in essence, to translate the language of mathematical modeling into business terms so that their insights are understandable, can be made actionable and can be expressed through visualization.
The final way that analytics is different is that without sponsorship, it can fall to the wayside. Because it is a complex and quantitative undertaking that requires a shift in the way the entire organization thinks about the business and it provides value to the organization as a whole, the C-suite must champion the initiative so all levels of the organization will adopt it more readily; otherwise it can die. So, it is essential to showcase the value of analytics by demonstrating the ability to drive not only hindsight, but also insight and foresight (as illustrated in Figure 1), right out of the gate.
Getting and Keeping Executive Buy-In
Just because executives or people from the business are asking for an analytics initiative, it is not always the case that executive buy-in already exists. The challenge becomes one of securing and maintaining executive support that will be so critical to your analytics initiative, now and for the foreseeable future.
The first step to getting executive buy-in for an analytics initiative is to determine how to explain the progression from BI to analytics (see Figure 3) in easily understood business terms. Start by making the case for how the proposed analytics solution will align with the overall corporate goals and objectives. Get specific. Do not talk about increasing the customer base or becoming more profitable.