The value of enlisting Saxony Partners to help you do more with your data isn’t just the deep technological expertise or the industry-specific knowledge. The real value is found in our people — people like Charity Wilson.
A senior analytics consultant at Saxony Partners – and an economist – Charity’s in a unique position to observe trends and themes first-hand and help companies address them. She recently shared six of those trends and themes with us.
1. Communications conundrum
“All the analytics in the world are worthless if you cannot communicate them,” Wilson says. “If I could hire either the world’s best modeler or the world’s second-best modeler, I would hire whichever one made the better presentation.”
Analysts and data scientists frequently employ the services of deep learning models to predict outcomes and turn raw data into something actionable. But even the best model output is likely to be ignored if decision-makers cannot understand what it means or how it is to be interpreted.
“When I was at Concentra I produced an amazingly complex Time Series algorithm,” Wilson recalls. “It produced astonishing forecasts. Management wanted to implement it – but not until I explained the math.”
“Once they had some clue of how Time Series worked, they put the algorithm into production. It has proved effective for them, and they continued using it after I left.”
Knowing this, it behooves analysts to develop strong communications skills. (They can hopefully co-opt the expertise of their in-house communications team, if applicable.) Encouraging the use of metaphors, stories, simple words, and visual aids is an investment toward improving comprehension.
2. There’s no “I” in “team”
“Analytics is a team sport,” Wilson says. “Good analytics can be done by a single person, but great analytics are done by a team working together.”
Teamwork is critical as it relates to analytics. A team with varied skillsets can nimbly navigate around hurdles and claim a competitive advantage.
“Early in my career, a teammate made a suggestion that I thought was totally ridiculous,” Wilson recalls. “So, I built a pricing model to prove him wrong. But, it turned out that he was right. I ate crow, and our team went on to stomp the competition.”
“And as it happened, that model I built turned out to be an astonishing breakthrough that gave us a competitive edge. We were able to stay ahead of our competitors.”
Working as part of a team allows people to focus on their own strengths, without feeling like they have to overextend themselves or be a master of all trades. At the same time, it gives everyone an opportunity to gain valuable new knowledge and understanding.
“I competed in the Alteryx Grand Prix with a team of three people,” Wilson says. “There were certain areas that I knew I could solve, but other things I had no clue about. As we talked through our approach to the problem we were given, I got to hear other’s logic up-close. I got to live in their workflows and see solutions that I later used myself. We ended up devising a powerful solution.”
3. Lean into diversity
Speaking of teams, some are better constructed than others.
“The best teams are diverse and represent a wide variety of characteristics, ideas, and perspectives,” Wilson says.
“Diversity” refers to gender, identity and ethnicity – and also to thought, background, experience, skillset, generation, linguistics, and more. Such diversity allows a team to act as a Swiss Army knife, adapting itself to the needs of the data. Different data needs different skills – and a diverse team is able to adapt on the fly.
Diversity provides what modelers would call “robustness.” It may sound unnecessary to have a teammate who can program a mainframe from the 1980s, but not when you consider that some of the tech problems we face today also plagued older mainframes. Tried-and-true solutions may need to be dusted-off and re-applied.
Incorporating a full spectrum of people, voices, ideas, experiences and backgrounds into your company is sound business strategy. Countless studies supporting this claim – from McKinsey and Company, to Tufts University, to Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In short – gather teams of diverse people, empower them, and incorporate their voices and ideas. Your company will be better for it.
4. Statistics are sexy
“Given the rate that it can be applied in business, everyone will need an education in statistics,” Wilson says. “It will become the air that business breathes.”
The proliferation of technology and The Internet Of Things means that everyone’s generating staggering piles of data daily. Now, statistics and machine learning are turning these data into actionable insights.
Few companies represent this trend better than Netflix. The entertainment company tracks the programs you watch, when and how often you watch, what devices you watch on – and that’s the abridged list. They are building a mountain of data that is almost unfathomable to consider. By applying statistics and machine learning, Netflix is effectively scaling this mountain – and using it to develop a competitive edge.
Such an approach helped Netflix develop their hit series, “Orange is the New Black.” Traditional TV networks might have been hesitant to greenlight its esoteric premise, but Netflix had data-based insights pointing to a specific audience “Orange is the New Black” could target. The result of that actionable data? A mega-hit show that has made a significant impact on our culture and Netflix’s bottom line.
Another example of the power of statistical analysis: Chick-Fil-A. There’s a reason why people happily wait in lengthy lines to get the company’s signature sandwiches, waffle fries and lemonade – beyond just the food.
Chick-Fil-A spends a significant amount of time researching what their customers want. Even their employee’s signature politeness has roots in intense analysis. And that’s just scratching the surface. What else can the fast-food company learn about their customers? Perhaps the unstated desires of busy moms? The antipathy people have about interacting with those infernal drive-thru speakers? (“No! Not Diet Pepsi! I said Dr. Pepper!”)
In short: The companies that are developing a competitive advantage are doing so through their data. They understand what their customers want and how to create that value.
5. Blockchain bandwagon
Yes, there’s a taste of “New Coke” around the concept of blockchain – a cottage industry has developed of late dedicated to explaining (1) what it is, and (2) how it will change and improve the world profoundly in years to come.
Blockchain is a system for recording, verifying and distributing digital information inside a central database that, itself, is decentralized across multiple locations within a network. No single entity owns the database, making it impervious (or so they say) to hacking (as it’s both everywhere and nowhere at the same time). Though most people know about it only because of the high-profile booms and busts associated with cryptocurrency – blockchain is way more than just Bitcoin.
There are times when all of us need data to be both secure and accessible. Blockchain offers both (hence its appeal). One can imagine, for instance, an implementation of blockchain in the healthcare space as a way to both secure, and broaden access to, patient records.
“A few days ago, I ordered some art pens for my teenager from Amazon,” Wilson says. “The order didn’t show up on time, and I had no clue when the pens would arrive. Amazon sent me some vague messages apologizing for the delay, but no explanation about the cause. Maybe that’s because they didn’t know the cause.”
“Blockchain would allow Amazon to more efficiently track the progress of packages from the warehouse, to the airport, to the delivery plane, and to the delivery truck. Any hiccup along the way would be spotted and logged, and alternate arrangements made. Right now, there is no secure way for all these players in the shipping chain to communicate with one another. Blockchain offers that possibility.”
There’s already an arms race underway among companies to adopt this future-state of the spreadsheet and leverage its security and adaptability. As blockchain implementation continues to expand, it’s in every company’s best interest to explore how to use it to gain a competitive advantage.
6. iHope you’re utilizing that smartphone
“All of us have one of these,” Wilson says, picking up her smartphone. “It’s a geospatial device, producing an incredible amount of data – data that is currently underused.”
Everything happens somewhere – and understanding the geospatial element of data will give some companies an edge. For example, geospatial data helps brick-and-mortar companies understand where to place new locations. Even our friends at Netflix can use it to gauge what shows are most popular in which locations.
The problem is that deciphering this data and putting it into an actionable format is not easy – it requires an expert analyst. Currently, the amount of data available is outpacing the availability of analysts. That’s a problem – unless you’re an analyst looking for job security.
Until supply meets demand, business leaders must ensure that budget and personnel are dedicated to in-house or for-hire analytics. If you don’t create that line item, your competitor will.
Did you find yourself nodding along while reading through this article? Are you looking to do more with your data? Saxony Partners has the people, the industry knowledge, and the technological expertise necessary to help you develop innovative digital and data strategies. Call us today at 214-389-7900, visit us online, or reach out via LinkedIn.