Yes you can be data-driven! A new approach to beat the fear factor

By Davy Nys, General Manager EMEA, ThoughtSpot

Practically every company I talk to these days about big data has a vision to become “data-driven”. Despite this, there’s a wide gulf between vision and reality. Analyst firms report adoption rates for BI and analytics ranging from only 21 – 32 percent. Given the massive innovation and interest levels in big data technologies in the past decade, why are these figures so low?

Self-service lies at the heart of becoming truly data-driven. It’s about empowering all employees to make informed, optimal business decisions that are based on as much available, accurate data as possible. Given major economic disruptions caused by new models like omnichannel and the sharing economy, becoming truly data-driven has never been more urgent or important.

At the same time, when I talk to CIOs about data-empowering front-line workers like merchandisers, claims adjusters and sales reps, I keep hearing the same story: ‘Our people aren’t ready for that yet.’ When I dig a little deeper, they confide: “What if our people don’t ask the right questions?” And, “They don’t really get data or analytics.” What they’re really saying to me is that they can’t see business users ever becoming skilled in esoteric data concepts like writing SQL scripts or understanding how data table joins work.

The fact is most CIOs have been burnt by multiple previous attempts to implement and drive adoption of BI and analytics software. Their experiences have been with a classic ‘pipeline’ model where data lives in different silos – sales, marketing, HR, etc. Experts with limited business knowledge prepare data for analysis, segment it into data marts, partition it further into cubes and views. Business people on the other hand want answers to what they see as very obvious business questions. However, because of the way the data is structured, the answers can take days or even weeks to generate.


Beating the fear factor

It’s little wonder that CIOs get apprehensive when I talk about a new search-driven approach to analytics that empowers any employee to ask questions of data directly, in real-time, without IT support. They imagine uncontrolled costs, strain and chaos on IT resources. To those, let me dispel some common misunderstandings and objections:

First IT will get sidestepped, then have to fix everything later – some CIOs assume that because search-driven analytics gives so much power to business users, that it’s a ‘shadow’ system that sidesteps IT. Not true. These systems rely on IT to set up and maintain the data model, set access rules and provide ongoing support.

Giving people so much data access will be dangerous – IT controls who can query what data, minimising risk. In the search-driven approach, business users are guided to ask allowable data questions. This overcomes the fear CIOs have about people not understanding data well enough to ask the ‘right’ questions. When someone searches for a Microwave oven in the books section of Amazon, Amazon doesn’t tell you you’re wrong, it suggests different departments where you can find results. Some search-driven systems are now augmented with AI that helps further guide users.

We can’t expect all those people to build reports – fortunately with search-based analytics, people don’t have to build reports. Business users don’t necessarily always want reports or dashboards. Usually they just want simple answers to data questions like “How many of brand X Bluetooth speakers did we sell to store card holders in our Brent Cross outlet on Black Friday? Your data experts can still build dashboards for the top executives who need regular updates on the same key performance metrics.

Giving analytics to everyone is too expensive – fortunately it’s not just the analytics data model that’s changing. New vendors recognise that per-user licence penalise data-driven organisations by taxing adoption and are offering favourable licensing models that don’t charge per user.

We can’t train all these people to use a whole new system! – If any vendor tells you that you need to send your people on a three-day training course to use a new analytics system, show them the door. The whole point of these new systems is that searching for data answers should work in the same familiar, intuitive way as Google or Amazon searches. And intuitive means no training, instant adoption.

The bottom line is that to compete effectively in the modern business landscape, organisations have to find a way to deliver true self-service: putting business knowledge in the hands of every user. This will never happen by persisting with the old pipeline-based approach or expecting employees to acquire technical data skills. New search-driven analytics tools allow data experts and business users to contribute their best skills and fulfil their organisations’ ambitions to be truly data-driven.