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Getting analytical about analytics

Thornton May | March 1, 2016
Too many of us are making ad hoc decisions around things like analytic strategy, architecture and tool sets.

Which data has what value?

Organizations need to analyze what they want to know before investing in analytic platforms, tool sets and techniques.The first step on the path to analytic mastery is to become street smart about data resources — you have to know what data you are collecting, what data you can safely allow to slip away, how you are using the captured data, and how do your collection and use practices compare with others in your industry. 

The second step is to decide who in your organization should be charged with rethinking existing business processes based on the new analytic tool sets. You don’t want a pure number-cruncher for this. You want someone who can think entrepreneurially about creating new revenue streams based on the new analytic tool sets. 

For example, In the retailing vertical market, analytics has historically been applied to physical products — forecasting which products on the shelves might be approaching out-of-stock situations, for instance. 

But in the new world of analytics, savvy retailers will use ever more data to move from being shelf-centric to shopper-centric as they learn to assess what shoppers’ true and recurring needs and wants are. What items, and in what quantities, do shoppers typically buy? Do they prefer self-service checkout lanes or human-assisted transactions? What time of day do they shop? Are they brand loyalists or price-sensitive bargain shoppers? Do they prefer to pay in cash, by debit card or by credit card with a reward incentive? 

It can take a subtle mind to see what kind of data has real value. An illustration of this can be drawn from the Age of Sail. In the 19th century, Matthew Maury used “dusty old ship logs” (a data source previously thought to be useless) to plot the ocean’s currents. Maury was a pioneer of datafication (see: Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger). Today, some of the hardest-working analysts in the world build on his legacy. They labor in a little-known branch of the U.S. Navy, the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, using oceanographic and atmospheric data to create info products to improve mission performance and marine safety.  


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