December 4, 2023


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When Solving A Business Problem With Data, “What Tech Are We Using?” Should Be Your Last Question

Head of Business Analytics & Sales Insights at London Stock Exchanges Group (LSEG).

When delivering a solution within an organization, it is critical to focus on value add. As new technologies are rolled out, it is instinctual to want to modernize the existing stack. However, there are some key concepts that need to be examined first in-house before deciding to go out into the marketplace for new software. The current state of affairs for the company’s people, process and technology to solve for its needs are critical to formulating the next action.

When dissecting the roadmap for a new project, a solution should start with the business problem you are trying to solve and the stakeholders you are trying to influence. First, get the problem structured thoroughly, and then work backward to the data set to make sure it is created the right way and the analytics are crafted in such a way that they can service the use case at hand. Data (and the technology used to access it) is only as good as its ability to drive value, and that usually means operationalizing it into workflows, enabling self-service and truly making sure business users understand both how and why the solution is working.

Technology is an enabler. There are many tools that do the same thing with different strengths and weaknesses. In the field of data and insights, an organization typically will have an enterprise data warehouse like a Snowflake, BI tools such as Tableau or PowerBI and oftentimes, data preparation tools like Alteryx that can make a data analysts’ life much easier.

More recently, data science-as-a-platform functionality using tools like DataRobot bring predictive analytics and data science into the hands of data-driven business analysts and enable prescriptive insights into the next best action. These technologies can help an organization stay modern in its workflows, and it is important to choose the right technology for the right use case, of course. And newer tools like Snowflake over, say, Microsoft SQL Server for data warehousing can shorten query times. However, rarely are the existing tools at any mature company nowadays really a deal-breaker when it comes to accomplishing initiatives.

The biggest change that these technologies bring are the workflows that they enable. Processes are important to cultivate once the right people and technologies are in place to make sure there is an organized cadence to getting things done. Nowadays, there has been a transition to self-service analytics and serving up insights much quicker than previously thought was possible. But it really lets people focus on using these tools and providing data-driven insights into the next best action and building operational processes that harness the data, tie it to the company vision and drive value. Automation, predictive analytics and enabling a single source of truth are all some of the key benefits.

Even, or especially, with the latest top-of-the-line tools, if you do not have the right people behind your technology, you will be dead in the water. Employees must understand how technologies are improving outcomes and why they are being implemented.

The biggest challenge is finding and hiring talent and then enabling that talent the right way to use your technologies. For employees in the building, an organization must invest in upskilling and talent development to make sure that people have the right skills to deliver on the data initiatives in flight. This can be formal training programs or on the job development. Most importantly, people must be aligned to a vision. It is important that people believe in what they are doing — not because they must but because it is the right thing to drive the business forward. Clarifying the company and team objectives through transparent plans and making progress toward milestones is instrumental to execution.

Do you really need that new shiny business intelligence platform? Or can something you have in-house solve your need? The answer depends. Go into every situation taking an account of what technology is available and map out a plan using that while in parallel thinking about how to optimize possibly with new technologies in a future state. It is important to think of all the other things that need to be done to get the technology to actually work in your organization.

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