Business Intelligence: Five Tips for Managing Data

By Tony Kontzer  |  Posted 05-06-2011

The way Jeanne Harris sees it, most companies haven't put enough thought into how they extract insight from the increasingly massive pools of data they're collecting. Harris ought to know. As executive research fellow and director of research for Accenture's Institute for High Performance, Harris is co-author of two well-regarded books on data analytics: Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), and Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results (Harvard Business School Press, 2010).

One of the consistent messages of the books is that organizations have to think systemically about data--meaning that merely establishing a data warehouse isn't enough.

"It's just a place to store stuff until you need it. It doesn't create value for anyone; it creates the potential for value," says Harris. "Many companies dump data in a data warehouse. The problem with that is, now you don't have a data warehouse; you have a data dump."

Instead, companies need to work toward a data strategy that combines a data warehouse with the ability to synthesize and organize data, get that data into the applications where it's needed, and apply data visualization capabilities. For more on this topic, read the article "Business Intelligence: Meet the Data Wranglers."

To help organizations on this path, Harris and co-author Thomas Davenport, a professor of IT and management at Babson College, recommend a five-step model they've created that is represented by the acronym DELTA. Addressing these areas, says Harris, will give an organization a good start toward an effective data strategy:

D: Data--Every good data strategy starts with clean, consistent data culled from across the organization. Ask yourself: What data is most important, and what do I have available?

E: Enterprisewide perspective--Look at your IT infrastructures and assess how you either enable or inhibit efforts to achieve a single 360-degree view of the customer.

L: Leadership--Companies need analytical leaders who can set an example in terms of making good decisions with data. Harris points to a quote attributed to legendary statistician W. Edwards Deming: "In God we trust; all others better bring data."

T: Target--It's critical to identify the areas of the business where analytical decision making will have the biggest impact, and focus on those. "Pick your spots," says Harris. "You can't apply analytics to everything."

A: Analytical people--Analytical skills are needed at every stage of an organization's data-analysis environment, as evidenced by the huge demand for analytical and statistical skills on the job-listing site Monster.com.