Dispatches from 2013 Chief Analytics Officer Summit – Chicago

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We’re reporting on the scene at the Chief Analytics Officer Summit 2013 in Chicago, the second-annual event held by the International Institute for Analytics. Here are updates from throughout the event.

9:10 a.m. CST: The event technically started Tuesday with a “fireside chat” with Tom Davenport, IIA Director of Research and currently a visiting professor at Harvard Business School, but began in earnest this morning with Davenport revisiting his Analytics 3.0 vision. About 160-180 folks here, from some notable global companies like Caterpillar, HSBC, Kraft, GlaxoSmithKline. High number of analytic practitioners skewing the typical event population toward business rather than vendor representatives and pros.  

10:09 a.m.: Presentations have a casual, living room feel – albeit this fancy living room in the Union League Club of Chicago comes with candelabras – which I think gives a great platform for “real talk” from today’s CAOs. In one of the first sessions of the day, entitled “Is Your Approach to Analytics ‘Fire, Ready, Aim?’”, Marcia Tal, IIA lead faculty and founder of Tal Solutions, talks about her past roles leading a business analytics team. Tal puts it like this: For an analytic strategy to start small, build credibility and keep you market in perspective. That may not be an option for larger enterprises, or those further along the analytic maturity scale, like many financial markets. “Different markets require different levels of analytic maturity ... If you’re in an emerging market, you don’t really have to have the most analytic competitiveness ... it might just be some basic capabilities that will give you enough of an advantage for your market.”

And in building those teams, Tal has seen business-minded information managers find more buy in and ROI over their data-focused counterparts. “Some of the most talent people in the analytics organization can take the most complex problems and present them in simple English. When you get to the boardroom, no one wants to see the methodology. You’ve got five minutes.”

11:10 a.m.: Replacing the Chicago-specific inspirational quote from basketball legend Michael Jordan on the projection screen is the placeholder screen for a presentation on dealing with “culture shock” in immersing your organization in analytics. The moderator is well-known to analytics mainstay, Bill Franks, CAO at Teradata, who frames the discussion in terms of the early adoption plans in the telecommunications industry and asks how many organizations in the room are ready to present execs with decisions “purely based on analytics.”

Starting off is Dan Yoo, head of business operations and business analytics at LinkedIn, who says that among analytic team members at the professional social network, the emphasis for analytic understanding among all executives enables them to “uplevel all conversations.” “We take an unbiased neutral point of view on what the data is telling us. And that permeates the entire organization.”

Another panelist, Jill Dyché, VP at the SAS Institute (and former IM blogger during her time at Baseline Consulting), kicks off her smart take on “death by meeting culture” when it comes to analytics planning. Fielding an attendee question on when to involve the chief executive officer in business analytic plans, Dyché puts it plainly: “You may never have the CEO involved.” That’s based on the small beginnings of many analytic programs, and addressing the “need, pain or problem” you’re trying to get at with analytics. However, when you do need to connect with the CEO on your analytics planning, Dyché says what works frequently (and keeps the CEO’s attention) is a discussion where, to the greatest extent possible, “you can couple the analytics strategy to the business strategy.” Dyché recommended watching the business’ external investments, along with its corporate involvement and direction, in assessing how to size up where you analytics program fits in.  

Great talk/Q&A around disruptions that are reframing business discussions on analytics. On the “Internet of Things,” Robert Hanfield, professor with a specialty in the supply chain at North Carolina State University as well as a faculty member for IIA, said businesses remain “nascent” in movement on the concept, particularly as they define how they share data and handle regulations. Piggybacking on that, Yoo notes the ongoing collection of data and how it will rearrange the idea of what companies sell (or at least open them to data as a revenue stream). Pointing to the Nike pedometer and all of the data it collects from the exercising set, Yoo says: “I assure you in the future Nike will be a massive data company.”

1:15 p.m.: Back from lunch and it’s awards time. Davenport is joined on stage by two analytics experts from Intermountain Healthcare, winners of IIA’s annual “Excellence in Analytics” award (along with UnitedHealth Group). Also on stage is last year’s winner, Procter & Gamble. Andy Walter, VP at Procter & Gamble, heads up BI, analytics and computers services for the Cincinnati-based household product manufacturer. As part of the analytic mindset change, IT has been renamed as information decision solutions, or IDS, and are undergoing an adjustment where 20 percent of IDS workers are focused on analytics. Moving forward, Walter says P&G is in the process of matching its growing analytic prospects with the visual elements to make it come to life for business. “We want to move away from static reports, column reports ...,” Walter says. “A lot the leaders we have sought out are highly visual leaders ... so we made some very specific investments to visualize what is going on.”

David Dirks, AVP of budgeting and decision at Intermountain, gives an honest assessment on health care’s overall sluggish adoption on analytics for everything from costs to internal personnel decisions. In the near future, Dirks says he sees health care and related insurance providers offering more analytic tools for “showrooming” on prices and qualities, as well as the related debates on the accuracy of that information. 

2:20 p.m.: Dwight McNeill moderates a panel of “iconoclasts” on customer analytics, including Dan Wagner, CEO of Civis Analytics but more well-known for his previous role running analytics on the Obama reelection and Michael Cousins, CIGNA, VP of operations research and analytics.

Wagner’s tale has been oft-repeated since the successful presidential campaign, though he offers a few wrinkles on a fairly revelatory program. In his role on the campaign, customer data bias was rampant and inaccurate sample sizes were the norm. Wagner said these “essentially were stereotypes” on voters (in this case, customers), so the Obama campaign agreed on “betting the farm” on analytics as a backdrop to campaign activity. Wagner was funny about his team – analytics “weirdos” who were comfortable working from a place called “the cave” – but said they got to the point where every activity could monitored as a metric of positive or negative cost per vote, leading to greater confidence in battleground states (and with bets involving Obama strategist David Axelrod’s moustache). 

3:32 p.m.: IIA faculty leads the day’s final session, on the “burning” issue of finding and retaining analytic talent. Led by Robert Morison, lead faculty, ERS, and Greta Roberts, CEO of Talent Analytics, the three-part presentation follows on a solid report IIA released earlier this year. One huge issue is what Roberts calls a “definition problem” with analytic roles, where jobs postings for analytic professionals are riddled with “competing requirements," among other issues. It’s a strong, fresh take on the data-driven decision-maker role that drove people to BI and analytics at the inception of the market. And it involves a “pretty tricky supply and demand problem” between the scarcity of analytics pros and the slow growth of business capabilities. 

“It’s not that we just need more analytic talent. We need more analytic talent among our business users,” Morison says.

(For more updates from the event, follow the Twitter hashtag #CAOS2013 or Information-Management.com Senior Editor Justin Kern at @IMJustinKern.)

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