I spent last weekend at a very special event in the analytics calendar: The Pacific Northwest BI Summit, hosted each year by Scott Humphrey.
The Summit is held in lovely Southern Oregon and brings together a carefully invited group of vendors and practitioners, experts and journalists, to discuss the latest trends in our industry. The atmosphere, thanks to Scott, is business focused but very relaxed.
I very much enjoy that the Summit is remarkably non-competitive. Everyone contributes, but no one tries to score points. We discuss the latest signals from the industry without worrying that we may give away precious competitive insight. In fact, one soon realizes that we all share very similar views of the market, and of the bearing of the industry, even if our choices about how to progress diverge.
One topic is never far from the formal agenda in the conference room and our informal chats on the deck: organizations. In particular, vendors and experts never tire of discussing the management challenges and developments that we see in our customers’ businesses. These are not all horror stories of dysfunction and broken trust - but there are plenty of those! Rather, we are very aware that data management and analysis have deep organizational implications.
Jill Dyché reminded us that business culture directly affects our ability to use analytics and intelligence effectively, quoting Peter Drucker’s phrase that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
It’s also true that deploying and enabling analytics can, in turn, change corporate culture.
Claudia Imhoff observed that education is critical to success with BI. Most importantly, don’t confuse education in analytic thinking with training in BI tools. Training can help you to build visualizations and dashboards, only a broader teaching can help you understand and act on the results.
As vendors, we must keep these organizational issues in mind, as we design, develop, deploy and support our software. If applications require specific skills from IT to deploy and manage servers, or advanced skills from business users, then hiring or training for those skills will change the dynamics of the parent organization. We all know IT departments which have withdrawn into themselves, barely able to keep the lights on in a network of ever-more-complex software. And I have seen analysts transition from a hopeful center of excellence, to a “center of arrogance” delivering advanced statistical analyses pitched over the heads of managers and executives.
At Qlik, we always work to create applications and servers which are simple to deploy and simple to use: which grow comfortably with the needs of business users and IT alike. But simplicity and ease-of-use have their own impacts on organizations. My colleague James Richardson has often pointed out that some tools are both very simple and at the same time very inflexible - think of a drag-and-drop report designer where the report gives a single, static view of the data without exploration. In such cases, rather than using a more flexible application - such as a QlikView or Qlik Sense dashboard - users are tempted to create another report for every new scenario. I have personally seen servers hosting tens of thousands of reports: most of them redundant, out-of-date, unread and useless.
So what can we do: we the vendors, and you the customers?
Firstly, we must not promise a magic pill for every ill. Business intelligence and data discovery can transform a business, but to be successful we and our partners must guide customers through the cultural change needed.
Customers, for their part, need to recognize that organizational change is always required, even if only to take advantage of the tools and services available. Every so often I will read an RFP, or have a conversation with a customer, that suggests that their organization is just right as it is thank you, and what they really need is an analytical tool that simply fits right in and gets on with the job. For me, I would not want to be a vendor or employee in a team like that!
Wherever you look in the data management and analytics business you will come across this issue. Vendors compete on features and functions. Businesses succeed or fail on culture and capacity. At the heart of it all, we need a willingness to change and to adopt a culture of curiosity and continuing education in how we think about our decisions.