Are the Analysts Getting Closer to the C-Suite?

As I write this I am literally surrounded by hundreds of digital analytics, predictive analytics, and conversion optimisation professionals. I’m at the Data Driven Business Week again in San Francisco, attending eMetrics and Predictive Analytics World, getting my annual dose of analytics industry input, insights, and networking on this side of the pond.

As I made my way here I realized that it’s been 10 years since I attended my first eMetrics gathering in Santa Barbara back in 2003. I then thought about what’s changed since those early days and what maybe hasn’t. For sure there have been significant changes in the technologies and the processes, and the governance around those technologies has become more robust, but one of the perennial issues that the digital analytics industry and its professionals wrestle with is “business impact.” How do digital analytics professionals impact upon the key corporate decision-makers? So I came here wondering: are the analysts any closer to the C-suite?

I think from what I’ve seen here and from what I know that the answer is “yes.” Perhaps a qualified “yes,” but a “yes” anyway. The qualification is that it looks like the C-suite, and particularly the CMO, may be helping the analysts out a bit. Whereas historically “marketing” and “technology” were two words that were not often found in the same sentence, one can’t now survive without the other. The new generation of CMOs is more data-driven than its forefathers and has a critical need for performance measurement and ROI analysis, across everything. In fact, it won’t be too long before the marketing guys are going to be buying more tech than the tech guys, apparently.

So, on the one hand it looks like the CMOs are moving toward the analysts. They have the need in a way that they maybe didn’t realize before and so soon the analysts will be knocking on open doors. In many cases this is already happening and it’s great now to hear more and more stories about organizations where the analysts are able to demonstrate clear business impact and in some cases business ownership as well.

Where the analysts are meeting the CMO it looks like a couple of things are happening. First, as described, there’s an awareness at the C-suite level of the importance of data-driven decision-making and the potential of analytics to produce real business impact and results. These organizations are moving up the “Analytics Maturity Curve,” as described by Thomas Davenport in his book, and want to compete on analytics. The second thing that is happening is that the analytics function is reaching the level of scale and sophistication where it can actually deliver on the business needs. What’s happening here?

  • Multiple data sources, both online and offline, are being used and integrated
  • Data governance is good and so data integrity is high
  • Operational processes are tuned
  • Resources and skills are correctly developed and deployed

What’s clear is that you can’t have business impact as an analytics function when you’re only dealing with part of the overall picture. Successful analytics teams are taking the core behavioral data and enriching and enhancing their understanding of that behavior and its relevance by integrating with other digital data streams as well as offline data streams. They’re able to show not just the performance of digital marketing on the online business but the total business.

The last point about resources is also a really interesting one, and there was a great example shown this week by Balaji Ram, director of site analytics and optimization at Walmart. As well as integrating data across devices and channels to get a complete view of customer behavior, Ram has a blended approach to resourcing his team from highly technical data engineers who are responsible for things like measurement instrumentation through to business analysts who work with the internal customers to deliver the insights that can impact the business. Now Walmart obviously has a bit of scale that helps it in this regard, but I don’t think that Ram would own one of the company’s KPIs unless he’d developed the business consulting talent as part of his team.

So, we’re probably getting there. It might have taken a while and there may still be a ways to go, but the omens are good.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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