Guessing for trouble

May 30, 2013

Running operations for a global company means making significant strategic decisions every day, and even the comparatively small decisions affect real people throughout the organization, both in the short term and the long term.

It is easier when you can confidently say that the decisions are backed by the collective experience of the team involved and quantitative analysis. One of those only comes with time and effort, but the other is readily available through our internal deployment of our own software.

In an ideal world, we would always have all of our information available to us in a centralized data warehouse, ready for retrieval and analysis. In the real world, however, that’s not always the case. If every time we launched a new initiative we had to revise our data collection processes and use resources on expanding our solution, we’d lose the agility TARGIT is known for. So that human element, that intuition still plays a role in decision-making. It is not a viable long-term solution, though; as everybody has a boss they need to explain decisions to.

Hence the dilemma – make qualified decisions based on data that isn’t available in my Business Intelligence tool (without having the resources to make it available) or take an educated guess and hope for the best.

As it turns out, there’s a middle road: ad-hoc analytics.

And don’t think about Excel. Don’t spend hours creating pivot tables and calculations to get a single end result, only to discover months later that there’s something incorrect in your spreadsheet and everything is off. (This happens more than you think – 90% of spreadsheets have errors in them, according to this paper (http://panko.shidler.hawaii.edu/My%20Publications/Whatknow.htm.)

I take advantage of our own TARGIT Business Intelligence & Analytics solution to run these ad-hoc analytics that allows me to simply drag and drop my datasheets straight into TARGIT and start analyzing.

Recently, we had to make a major strategic decision about how we should focus our offering within a specific geographical market. The data available to us through our CRM solution indicated that we’ve been successful at selling to a specific type of organization and that we had the right partner community in the area to widen our focus. But how big is that wider focus, and how has that market performed overall?

Data like that isn’t internal, but it’s available through the US Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the equivalent organizations in other countries. TARGIT allowed me to take these external data, combine them with our internal data and perform all cross analytics needed to make an informed decision. Analyzing the combined data reinforced that our initial analysis was right, but that the priority of focus segments should be changed and after that, the decision was easy. The value of that extra information has only become clearer the past few months.

No change in an organization is a simple one, especially when you’re adjusting your employees’ focus areas, or if you go against their instincts. Showing them the data behind your decisions can make a big difference. Today, we can see that the adjustment to the refocusing has paid off, but even if it hadn’t, I would be comforted by the fact that the decision was based on information that was analyzed with a robust tool.

As another example, I’ve been using ad-hoc analytics as we evaluate three new business partners. All of them are agencies that work for us to qualify leads, all of them come from different countries, and all of them work very differently and deliver their results just as differently. Before we set up the complex importing processes to connect their work with our CRM, we want to take a look at the quality of the data they’re generating and see if it meets our internal standards. So we created a few analyses on the data files they turn over to us each week, and it gives us the insight we need to evaluate and benchmark them against one another to see which firm we’ll work with going forward.

Ad-hoc analytics is not just for executives running reports; it’s used widely here within TARGIT, from marketing folks looking over SEO performance metrics and campaign plans to sales reps reviewing the information they get from our partners.

You probably run ad-hoc analytics of a sort in your own job, but how easy is it for you to do? 

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