The Four Stage Journey to Analytics Excellence

First, we walk, then we run. The same is true in data analytics. In our many discussions, we have encountered companies that are just starting out with data analytics and others with substantial organizations handling petabytes of data. Everyone that we meet is somewhere along this spectrum of maturity. We’ve found that just because an enterprise’s data analytics organization is large does not mean that it is excellent. In fact, the flaws in a process or methodology become particularly noticeable when a team grows beyond the initial stages.

We view every company as being somewhere on a journey towards achieving excellence. In our experience, the journey is divided into four stages. That said, some get there faster by taking a shortcut. We’ll discuss the four-stage journey and the shortcut to excellence below.

Stage 1 — Data Desert

Companies generate data from a variety of enterprise applications. This data can help organizations gain a better understanding of customers, products, and markets. If your company is not reaping value from your data, then you live in a data desert. In a data desert, the data is underutilized or lays dormant. Like a mineral resource that remains in the ground, the data could have enormous potential, but without data analytics that potential goes unrealized.

This situation could have implications for the company’s future. What if competitors have devised a way to use data analytics to garner a competitive advantage? Without a comprehensive data strategy, a company risks missing the market.

Stage 2- Boutique Analytics

Some organizations are engaged in analytics, but do so in a decentralized fashion or on a small scale. Some enterprises are just getting started in analytics. Whether or not a person has programming skills, it is possible to do a fair amount of analytics using everyday tools like spreadsheets. One can accomplish even more using data visualization software. We call this Boutique Analytics. In a boutique shop, data analytics professionals are akin to artisans.

Boutique Analytics tend to be ad hoc or create one-off reports that answer questions posed by a manager. For example, a global enterprise may wish to know how much of its revenue it derives from one customer. Data is exported from CRMs or operations systems and pulled into a spreadsheet for analysis. The term Boutique Analytics may make it sound small in scale, but some large enterprises are known to rely solely upon this approach. A large enterprise might run weekly reports exporting sales data into a flat file. The global sales and marketing team can then easily manipulate the data in a spreadsheet. The sharing of data using flat files can be used to complement an enterprise’s operational analytics.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Boutique Analytics. It is a great way to explore the best ways to deliver value based on data. The eventual goal should be to operationalize the data and deliver that value on a regular basis. This can be time-consuming and error-prone if executed manually.

Stage 3- Waterfall Analytics

If an analytics initiative is successful and the team grows, a company will eventually begin to manage analytics more formally. Companies usually have a deeply entrenched project management culture based upon the methodology used by their research and development teams. Often project management is based on the Waterfall method so it is natural for these organizations to implement Waterfall Analytics.

In the Waterfall world, development cycles are long and rigidly controlled. Projects pass through a set of sequential phases: architecture, design, test, deployment, and maintenance. Changes in the project plan at any stage cause modifications to the scope, schedule or budget of the project. As a result, Waterfall projects are resistant to change. This is wholly appropriate when you are building a bridge or bringing a new drug to market, but in the field of data analytics, changes in requirements occur on a continuous basis. Teams that use Waterfall analytics often struggle with development cycle times that are much longer than their users expect and demand. Waterfall analytics also tends to be labor intensive, which makes every aspect of the process slow and susceptible to error. Most data-analytics teams today are in the Waterfall analytics stage and are often unaware that there is a better way.

Four Stages of Analytics

Stage 4 — DataOps Analytics

DataOps is a new approach to data analytics, which is superior to Waterfall Analytics in terms of flexibility, quality, and development cycle time. DataOps adopts key concepts from lean manufacturing. It views data analytics as a continuously operating pipeline, which can be automated, monitored and controlled. New analytics are created using Agile Development, a methodology created in the software engineering field. Agile manages the development of new analytics by delivering valuable features in short increments. This allows an organization to quickly adapt to new requirements or change course based on the demands of the marketplace. Analytics are deployed using the continuous deployment methodology pioneered by DevOps. Automated orchestration replaces labor-intensive manual processes. This means that new analytics can be published continuously, on-demand with minimal human intervention. Data quality flowing through the data analytics pipeline is monitored using automated data and logic tests executed as part of the continuous deployment automation. These tests are inspired by the statistical process control widely used in modern manufacturing operations.

Take the Shortcut

The mistake that many companies make is that they languish in stage 3. The better approach is to take a shortcut, skip stage 3 entirely, and move directly to stage 4. If your organization is already in stage 3, then it’s advantageous to advance as quickly as possible.

The Journey to Excellence

DataOps provides the foundation for data analytics excellence. It streamlines the development of new analytics, shortens cycle time, and automates the data-analytics pipeline, freeing the team to focus on value-adding activities. It also controls the quality of data flowing through the pipeline so users can trust their data. With DataOps in place, the team is productive, responsive and efficient. They will race far ahead of competitors whose analytics are less nimble and less impactful. DataOps shortens your journey to analytics excellence.