To have a great analytics culture, you need a great communications culture

Employee-communicationWhen you read about big data and/or data analytics projects and systems, it is rare that you also read bout communicating the outcome of those projects. Without the ability to communicate the results of any analysis to the broader business, most big data / analytics projects are doomed to mediocrity…or even failure.

The quantitative mind is a great one. It is one that I’m very familiar with and one that I wholeheartedly support.  The ability to take a data set, analyze that data and create new information and knowledge from that data is an extremely important skill for people and organizations to have.

Just as important is the skill to be able to convert the outcome of any quantitative analysis into something that is easily digestible by people throughout an organization.

Take, for example, the world of academia.  There are many really smart people performing research within universities and research facilities. These people conduct research and then publish the outcomes of that research in academic journals to share their new-found knowledge with others.

Have you ever picked up an academic journal/article? These articles are generally well-written and delivered in formal academic styles but they aren’t exactly ‘easy reading’.   They are meant to be used for academic reporting within academic circles. They are also used within industry but most practitioners that read these journals and articles are usually people with similar education and experience as those folks who are writing / publishing these articles.

What happens when a finance manager picks up the Journal of Finance paper titled “Determinants of Corporate Borrowing?” Will they easily understand what the paper is trying to communicate?  Let’s take a look at a portion of the abstract of the paper:

Many corporate assets, particularly growth opportunities, can be viewed as call options. The value of such ‘real options’ depends on discretionary future investment by the firm. Issuing risky debt reduces the present market value of a firm holding real options by inducing a suboptimal investment strategy or by forcing the firm and its creditors to bear the costs of avoiding the suboptimal strategy. The paper predicts that corporate borrowing is inversely related to the proportion of market value accounted for by real options. It also rationalizes other aspects of corporate borrowing behavior, for example the practice of matching maturities of assets and debt liabilities.

I would argue that anyone – given enough time – could understand what that paragraph is trying to communicate, but in the fast-paced world of business, does anyone really have time to sit down and study this paper?  I doubt it.  Most will call up a consultant and ask to help better understand the optimal approach to corporate debt.  What is that consultant going to do?  She will take her experience as a consultant (and in finance/banking), study the business, literature and best practices and then make a recommendation to the business on what they should do. If the consultant is any good, these recommendations will be provided in an easy to understand document that can be implemented effectively within the organization.

The same approach needs to be taken with data analytics.  We can’t just throw a spreadsheet or chart over the wall at the business and expect them to understand what the data is telling them or what they should with that data. I see a lot of this these days though. A company will implement a new big data project, perform some analysis of the data and then provide the output of the analysis in pretty charts and tables but very rarely are there deep, meaningful discussions and analysis about what that data is really telling the business and/or what the business should do based on the data analysis.

Now, you may say that good data scientists / analysts already do this…and you’d be right. But, not everyone is a great analyst nor is it a skill set that most organization’s are hiring for these days. When I talk to clients about big data, they talk about the need to get the best hardware, software and analytical skills…but they rarely talk about the need to find great communicators.

Companies regularly spend millions of dollars on the ‘hard’ costs for big data and data analytics. They’ve even begun spending a good deal of money on the ‘soft’ costs to get their people the best training available so they can be the best data analysts available but it is rare that they spend much money on communications training.

The funny thing about this particular topic is that most data scientists consider themselves to be good communicators.   In my experience, the really good ones are…but the majority of the ‘new’ data scientists struggle with this aspect of their job.

If you want to be a great data scientist, become a great communicator and storyteller. As a data scientist, if you can’t communicate in a way that is informative and useful to the business, the work you do in the ‘quant’ world isn’t that valuable to the company.  The same can be said to the business in general – if you want a great data analytics culture, build a great communications culture. You can’t have one without the other.

Don’t let the big (or small) words win – The New CIO Series

In the world of  technology we tend to use either really big words, really small words and/or acronyms.

What do you think of when you think of  ‘the cloud’ what do you think of?  Do you think about Amazon‘s EC2 or S3 or do you think about  “Parallel and Distributed Processing”?  Both could be right but neither are instructive to the ‘business’ user.  For that matter, is “the cloud” instructive to the business? Probably not.

The New CIO & Language

There’s a lot of talk in the business world about finding IT leaders who can speak to the business. I agree wholeheartedly…but I also think the business needs to learn to speak to the IT world too….but I’ve covered that in detail in a post titled Information Technology Leadership and Alignment. Moving on.

To help align business and IT, The New CIO needs to first look at the language of IT.  Get rid of the big words….and perhaps the small words if they aren’t clear enough.  Look at your IT group’s language to make sure acronyms and tech-jargon are purged from the external facing documentation and communication.  Take a long look at what you communicate to the organization and how you communicate to make sure you aren’t letting the tech-speak take over.

Want to really take it up a notch and make sure you’re communicating what the organization needs to hear? Bring in a marketer and a   communications person to build an IT marketing and communication plan for your team.  Your organization has marketing plans for how you’ll attack the market, why can’t you have one for how you’ll communicate to the rest of the organization?

Be careful though…you don’t want to get too far into business language or you’ll end up using the same marketing/business jargon that every other group within your organization uses.  Keep it simple and real and you’ll be fine.

Next time the CEO asks you “what’s this cloud computing thing I keep hearing about?”, how will you respond?  Big words or the right words?

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges. Join me next week for another article in the series.

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John Madden’s Lessons for Leadership

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who co-chairs the ...
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John Baldoni had a great article on HarvardBusiness.org titled “Five Things John Madden Teaches Us about Leadership.”

Apparently John Madden has announced his retirement…I’ve been so busy with work and school to not know this.  Baldoni took Madden’s announcement as a chance to look at what leadership lessons can be learned from Madden….and I was impressed.

The lessons are:

  • Commit to what you do
  • Innovate as you go
  • Tell Stories
  • Love what you do
  • Know when to say when

Now…I’m going to make you jump over to the article to get Baldoni’s take on these lessons but I will provide my own commentary here too.

I don’t think anyone would argue with these points.  Leaders need to be committed towhat they do, love what they do, innovate and know when to throw in the towel.  But what about the third one (tell stories)?  Do many leaders do that?

I think they should.

Think about John Madden’s commentary during football games (American football that is).  He never sat there and just called the plays as they happened…he provided insight into what was happening and share stories from his many years of experience.

He used stories to educate people watching the games and he made people smarter by doing so.  This is what leaders need to do to.

Don’t just tell people that the organization is changing…tell them why its changing. Tell a story that highlights the reasons for the change.  Provide examples and a narrative to help people take the information in and internalize it.

In addition to football jargon, let’s learn something else from John Madden. Describe where you want to go and draw it out for your team….you may be surprised that people will be on-board with your vision if they understand it more clearly.

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IT Marketers – Five Reasons we aren’t listening

Paul Dunay over at Buzz Marketing for Technology wrote a post titled “Sin of Inclusion” that pointed me to some commentary on the IT Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) website.  The ITSMA article, titled ‘Why Our Customers Aren’t Listening to Us“, lists five reasons that customers aren’t listening to IT marketers.

These reasons are:

  • Customers aren’t just confused-they’re offended
  • Big prices + lack of specificity = frustration
  • The sin of inclusion
  • All marketing-speak sounds the same
  • Marketing-speak makes the purchasing decision more difficult

You aren’t surprised are you?

Everyone’s been subjected to ‘marketing speak.’ From my experience, when a vendor talks to me in plain English and addresses my issues without any marketing speak, they tend to get much more of my time than the marketing-speak that spews from some vendor’s mouths.

I’m sure there are many of you that have been involved in creating marketing-speak too. I have.  Think about the last time you were in a meeting and someone asked you how you could help them.  Did you speak clearly and simply and describe how you can help them?  Or did you revert to the marketing material you memorized?  I know there are times when I’ve reverted back to marketing-speak and within seconds I regret it.

The difficulty of marketing is that it is tough to use one approach to market your product/service these days.   I think this is why so many people/organizations are excited about using social media…you can target your message to your audience (theoretically).  Even with this ‘new’ approach to marketing, you’ve got to listen to your target market first, then market to them.

Regardless of what your message is or who you are speaking to, you’ve got to communicate in a simple, real and honest method.  In other words, have an Authentic Conversation with your customers/clients and you’ll find that they’ll listen intently….after you’ve listened to them.

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Authentic Conversation – Real, Simple, Honest

The opening paragraphs of the chapter titled ’95 Theses’ from The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual says (taken from this page):

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter-and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

Remember…this was written in 1999.  Sounds a lot like what you read today about why organizations need to use Social Media.

The Cluetrain Manifesto continues (taken from the same page):

Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

Again….sounds like stuff I’ve read recently about the use of Social Media by organizations.

Here we are, 10 years after The Cluetrain Manifesto was written and we’re still hearing/saying the same thing.  Organizations still don’t seem to ‘get’ that their customers are human beings who are smart enough to understand when they aren’t hearing the truth from them.

Today, organizations are trying to figure out how to use Social Media to embrace their customers.  I’m all for embracing customers and using Social Media to do this and, in fact, I think it’s important and vital to the success of an organization today.

But…unless organizations change their approach to  Social Media and/or any other method/idea/tool for embracing customers, the results will be the same as every other approach.

What do organizations need to do differently?  Forget the tools. Forget Social Media (not really…but keep reading).  Forget marketing.

What organizations need to do is go back to the basics of having an Authentic Conversation with their customer.

What is an Authentic Conversation? An Authentic Conversation is one in which an organization (or person) has a simple, honest and real conversation.

Sounds good right? I think so. Of course, the idea of authentic conversations isn’t new…but it seems as if it needs to be defined again with everyone talking about Social Media.   Why?

Simple…You can spend millions of dollars building platforms and tools to use social media but if your message isn’t authentic (e.g., simple, real, honest), the money will be a waste.   Forget the money for a minute…you could get into Social Media for free and still waste your time.  Why?  Because the second your customers get a hint of un-authentic conversations, they’ll revolt….and tell all of their friends.

Organizations need to start looking at ways to have simple, real and honest conversations with their customers on whatever medium makes sense.  Do this and customers will thank and embrace you.

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Twitter & Friendfeed

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