Remember when you were first bit by the analytics bug? That joy of insight discovery? That feeling of being a data detective, uncovering the obvious because you knew just where to look and from which direction?
Those were sweet times… until you woke up one morning and discovered that you and your team now spend the majority of your waking lives cranking out reports. You dream of the day you can dive back into that data mine and unearth shiny, new nuggets of insight.
Once Upon a Time
I don’t remember where I read the story. It’s not mine and is apocryphal, but illustrative… and it goes something like this:
A new manager of the finance department tells his crew one Monday morning that they were to stop preparing reports and to not send out anything for two weeks.
After a moment of stunned silence, the staff rebels.
“Are you mad?”
“The whole company will come to a halt.”
“They’ll come after us with torches and pitchforks!”
“Your opposition is noted and if there is any blow-back, I will take all the blame for making this decision over your recorded objections.”
“But what will we do?”
“Well, we’ve been talking about updating some of our equipment and cleaning this place up … we might even take Friday off.”
“But, but, but….”
“Then we are agreed. As of this moment, no more reports go out the door until further notice.”
The mood is a strange mixture of fear, uncertainty and evil fun. They were instructed to be naughty!
By the end of the day, the mood becomes much cheerier and the office much neater. By the end of the week, the place is spotless and several new systems upgrades are working smoothly.
On the second Wednesday, everybody freezes when the phone rings. They look fearfully at it and expectantly at their manager. This is it. They are all about to get sacked.
The manager leans over and answers the phone on speaker.
“Uhm.., Hi. Uh, this is Johnson, down in shipping?”
“What can I do for you Mr. Johnson?”
“Well, I usually get a sales forecast every week so I can figure out how many boxes to buy. I don’t really know how long it’s been since I last saw one because I only look at it about once a month. Have you been sending them to the wrong desk?”
“I’m so sorry to have inconvenienced you Mr. Johnson. We’ll get you that report within the hour and make sure it shows up once a month like clockwork.”
“Well, that’s great. I mean, thanks a lot.”
The department manager terminates the call and says to his staff, “And that’s what we call a report needs assessment. When somebody asks for a report, it’s our job to find out why they need it. Then we’ll know what information they need and how often.”
< black out>
Please – it’s only a story. Do not come after me with Sarbanes-Oxley Enhanced Financial Disclosures requirements. It’s a fairy tale with a specific moral: Stop doing routine reports just because they are on the to do list. Time to put some things on the stop doing list.
Reports are a Destination, Analytics is a Journey
Reports are great for distilling data into consumable information. The trouble is, nobody actually reads reports more than two or three times. Why? Because so little changes.
What do people really want to know?
They really want to know if they need to alter their behavior.
Do they need to improve their spend on AdWords because bounce rates are climbing?
Do they need to segment their email messaging better because open rates are dropping?
Do they need to offer deeper discounts to try to lower inventory levels?
Try replacing those reports with alerts. Most people only need to know when things have changed by some, trigger amount.
Sales on this item are up more than 15 percent for more than two days?
Send me an alert.
Traffic from Yahoo! is down more than 10 percent for more than two hours?
Let me know.
Basket-fill-to-check-out has gone up or down by 5 percent within the past half hour?
Send me a text
Web site is not responding to any HTTP request for more than 3 minutes?
Call me, text me, find me!!
Dashboards? They can be useful. But if there’s a dashboard on the wall (or seven windows deep on my desktop) it does no good if it politely says, “There is a fire in the conference room.”
Not good enough… I need to know!
So now you’re overwhelmed with ad-hoc queries, right? Not if you have properly prepared and provided all and sundry with the means to make their own enquiries.
Data democratization? Nothing so dramatic. Just allow people the ability to look at the data. If they want to get deeper into slicing and dicing you can a) treat them to a lunch-time training session and then b) dotted-line them into your team. Congrats! You’ve just found a fellow data detective, bit by the analytics bug.
And what will you do with all your spare time? Once the office is cleaned up and the new systems are installed? The adventure of Discovery! The very reason you went into analytics in the first place.
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