Recently the issue of where analytics sits within an organization has received significant attention. Experience tells us that there is a lack of clarity about this subject, and various tensions have become evident within many organizations over this subject.

The Institute of Analytics Professionals of Australia in the ACT recently held a forum on this topic and brought together leaders within the ACT community to discuss this subject and share ideas about how to address the subject.

Why the hostility?

Let’s explore this from a maybe not so hypothetical perspective.

My name is Leon. I manage the ICT function and have to make sure that the lights are on, the phones are ringing, systems are running, data is being stored and is accessible, that disasters are recoverable and that critical business applications are functioning. I also have a team that designs and builds some applications where no viable COTS product exists. And all this with a shrinking budget. Lately I keep getting harassed by these ‘analytics’ people that want to stomp all over my environment. When I ask them what data they need they just say all of it. They need ‘sandpit’ environments to crunch data for no apparent purpose that I can see. They even want to build systems to deliver results to end users – no doubt I’ll end up having to support them even though they haven’t been on-boarded properly and then the propeller heads that built them will disappear and we’ll have no idea how to disentangle the mess they leave behind. Anyway, we already have a warehouse and a reporting team so what’s the story here...

My name is Dion. I am building a new analytics team and I have a few headaches. The biggest one is the ICT department. Those guys just don’t seem willing to play and don’t want to take on any new work. They are pathologically lazy control freaks. They don’t want to give me access to data, I cant copy the data across the an environment where I can perform exploratory analysis, I cant install the tools I need and they want to charge megabucks just to deliver results to end users. They just don’t get it. I’m going to need to set up my own rogue IT shop...

This is not too far from the truth for many organizations embarking on the path of business analytics for the first time. Even for those with some maturity this is not uncommon. The function of analytics is to provoke change while ICT carries the burden ensuring predictable service. In many ways, they are in functional conflict.

Failed models

Such a dilemma has manifested itself in one of two win/lose arrangements.

ICT wins and the organization loses. Under this arrangement the analytics function is brought into ICT, is managed by the CIO and adheres to the processes of information management and application development, being funded from the same pool. This typically fails as innovation is lost, proficient analytic professionals are frustrated and leave, and the organization ends up with an analytics unit that fails to deliver valuable insight and drive value and withers on the vine.

Analytics wins and the organization loses. Under this arrangement the analytics team gets its own independent capability for deriving and delivering insight. They may even have their own network in which innovation can happen. Problem is that the costs of support and maintenance sky-rocket, valuable analytics systems fail you can’t get the analytics guys to fix them in the middle on the night, data storage proliferates and competitive funding requests go up for approval for what appears to be the same investment.

These ends of the spectrum are more common than you may think.

The way forward

The organization wins. By adopting an organizational view, the provocative function of analytics can be supported in a sustainable manner. This approach is starting to emerge for those organizations that view themselves as analytics organizations, whose key to survival, competing and delivering value is in harnessing their greatest asset – their unique data holdings. For those that don’t work in one of these - what do they look like?

  • Firstly business analytics is adopted by the vast majority of the organization including ICT. Not many people may be able to build a predictive model but most can understand why they are important, and why data is collected. Such organizations can be identified by the presence of a C-level executive who is responsible for knowledge and insight - but not always. Analytics is likely to report outside of the ICT department.
  • Secondly, ICT are responsible for supporting the analytics team, ensuring that they are a partner or first class customer, rather than a competitor or a second class end of the line customer. The relationship is well understood the level of service is predictable (and good).
  • Thirdly, analytics respect the function of ICT and do not go to market within the organization with systems that ICT do not endorse. They involve ICT in their projects in a meaningful way and data access and volumes, processing grunt and delivery mechanism do not surprise the ICT operations team.

There are many structural ways of making this happen and the specifics will depend on the people within the organization. However, it requires mutual understanding and a disposition of collaboration rather than an assertion of position….and failing that, incentives that encourage nice play.

My name is Leon. I help Dion leverage the data we collect and deliver critical insight to decision makers. Together we are providing sustainable innovation.

My name is Dion. I maximize the value of the systems that Leon manages by making sure they carry critical insight. Together we are providing sustainable innovation.

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