Analytics Strategies vs. Tactics: Analytics Roadmaps Vary Based on Where You’re Going

By April 27, 2018 No Comments

Major advanced analytics strategic considerations are involved in a utility’s decision to replace a core legacy system, such as a Customer Information System.

In contrast, a more tactical “quick win” approach can fit advanced analytics projects of narrow functional scope, such as an internal agile team developing a mobile data tool for a specific workflow in the field.

The distinction between strategy and tactics sometimes can get tangled up in office politics, e.g. when managers or high-level executives have pet projects they consider “strategic” in contrast to competing pet projects, they may criticize as being “merely tactical.”

But putting aside such “pet projects,” how should organizations ideally evolve, after starting out by going after low-hanging fruit?  Quick win pursuit makes sense as a “tactical” or “short-term” strategy during early adoption phases in a utility’s advanced analytics journey. It builds confidence and skills and internal processes for scoping out additional projects, and the ROI of the quick wins can also help advanced analytics teams better position themselves to justify bigger projects. But what happens over a long period of time if nothing but low-hanging fruit is harvested?  An  unappealing image comes to mind, of a lot of unpicked rotten fruit high up in the tree.

More importantly the need to take a longer-term view comes to the forefront as a natural next phase.

When it comes to goals, whether for an individual or an organization, it is of value to consider the 2 by 2 grid below.  It is a well-known organizational tool which puts non-urgent, unimportant tasks in the lower right quadrant (shown below) as suggested by the author Steven Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

Urgent Not Urgent
Important Urgent and Important Not Urgent and Important
Not Important Urgent and Not Important Not Urgent and Not Important
 Source: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Steven Covey

If we have the luxury of getting enough done in the upper left (or so-called First Quadrant) and gotten the highly urgent (but unimportant) distractions of the lower left (Third Quadrant) out of the way, then it is important to next turn our attention to the longer term strategies and planning associated with the upper right Quadrant II – long-term development and strategizing, and associated plans.

The upper right corner is what must be considered when it comes to defining strategies for the long term. Ideally, the short-term wins should build a cohesive culture within the utility organization. It should establish ongoing processes which build the skill sets of internal team members.

Secondarily, it should build up confidence in the ability to select and deploy various analytics tools, including various software solutions and associated databases and their integrations and data governance.

In contrast to the above-suggested team-centric and people-centric approach, what happens if we are overly centered on the technology?  Some may ask “Shouldn’t it mainly be about the technology?  Aren’t quick wins best viewed as technology demos?”

There is a lot of justification in the advanced analytics world for saying “no,” especially for utilities seeking to retain easy-to-lose in-house advanced analytics talent.  Fundamentally, when faced with a new project, the pitfall is to believe selection of the right technology and/or outside vendor or consultant will solve the problem. Experience has shown, in contrast, that project failures are more often than not associated with the internal customer team involved in the project, rather than mainly being due to the vendor or technology that was selected.

While not directly associated with the above discussion, at his fascinating keynote speech in April 2018 at Utility Analytics Summit, Roy Barnes showed how important it is to align all projects with overall corporate objectives.   The connections are of value between the perspectives and ideas here.  Barnes has worked with a large number of U.S. utilities, and brings wide-ranging expertise as Customer Experience and Performance Management Expert at Blue Space Consulting. Earlier in his career his group was instrumental in shepherding the Marriott International (including the organization’s Vacation Club subsidiary) through an enormous growth phase.

Roy Barnes’ performance excellence work resulted in Marriott being inducted into the Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame.

During Barnes’ presentation at Utility Analytics Summit (UAS), he attributed these and subsequent successes to the analytic framework for customer-centric performance metrics which he described in detail. It is a framework which justifies removal of any “pet projects” that do not support a corporations’ overall goals.

Along similar lines, in other sessions at UAS, similar themes about overall corporate goals and optimally aligning advanced analytics work were evident.  For example, multiple sessions involved emphasis on a process focus rather than emphasis on projects or use cases.  While there will always be choices that have to be made when allocating resources towards various projects and use cases, the focus suggested during these UAS sessions was to first consider the company’s overall goals, echoing Roy Barnes’ suggestions.