Ever notice how some business functions get more respect inside their own companies than others? It’s a natural part of business life: all roles are not perceived equally.
Sales is always a good candidate for front-of-the-line, top-shelf, Grade-A respect - partly because sales is truly an important function, and also in many cases because the sales team is so prone to stepping up and claiming that spot. Other perennial front runners in the respect category, depending on the industry, can include manufacturing (because, after all, they make the stuff), operations (they keep things running), and professional services (where would the organization be without the fees of its doctors, lawyers, engineers, or consultants).
Other functions’ respect can be more hit-and-miss. In some companies, marketing rules the roost - owning the brand and strategic direction - while in others, the marketing folks are relegated to maintaining the official PowerPoint template. The customer service call center can empowered to be great (Zappos anyone?) or... well, don’t get me started on Bank of America. HR can perceived as the key to attracting and retaining the talent that gives you an edge, or they can be viewed as the annoying pencil-pushers that you have to keep around. And there are companies that are built on the back of their technology capabilities and give the nerds a great deal of respect, while others would fire the whole IT team and go back to pencils and postage stamps if they could.
Some business functions and roles are viewed as contributing to success.
And some are considered a necessary evil.
It is in this context that I urge Analysts: Stop Being Evil! Okay, what I really mean is, stop allowing your role to be perceived as a necessary evil.
Over the past several years the role of the Analyst in business has risen in prominence, with an increasing flow of books, articles, software, conferences, and buzzwords directed at the field of Analytics. This is a positive trend in my view, and a substantive one that reflects the convergence of new competitive strategies based on management science with enterprise software that has the capability to make Analytics mainstream. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this is entirely new - there are industries (especially in the finance & insurance sector) that have been built on analytics for decades. In those companies, analysts get respect. And the shining stars of the case studies and books (Harrah’s, the Boston Red Sox, etc.) achieved success by elevating analytics to be a competitive differentiator.
But then there is the rest of the world. As I advise companies on strategy and execution for BI & Decision Systems, I see the sad, mainstream reality of Analysts who are treated as a necessary evil. This is reflected in the chronic late nights and lost weekends that happen not because the Analyst is on the cusp of a breakthrough insight, but because of the grueling spreadsheet march it takes to produce marginally useful “required metrics” without adequate systems and training. The Analyst is necessary because the business has grown to believe that it needs those spreadsheets to monitor its performance. But the Analyst is a necessary evil in the sense that the role is seen not as strategic, not as a competitive advantage, nor as a driver of business change, but rather as a cost of doing business - one they would eliminate if they could.
So what to do about this situation?
First, I think many Analysts need to aspire to greater things. Something beyond data crunching. Beyond delivering metrics and KPIs. Even beyond stats and operations research. A worthy goal for the Analytics function, I believe, is to own and drive better decision-making processes across the organization.
Second, I think some Analysts themselves need to consider their part in this situation. If you fancy yourself an Analyst, and yet the only analysis software you know how to use is Microsoft Excel, you are part of the problem. Train up or change your title.
Third, I encourage Analysts to be selective - when you take a job (or keep the one you’ve got), if it’s not clear that Analysts are viewed as providing true value, be wary. Get specific commitments about the Analyst role, about the investment to support Analytics, and the importance of the role within the organization.
The Analyst role can be a force for good, for transformation, and for the betterment of mankind - the motto of this webcast is "Better Decisions Lead to a Better Life." Don't let Analytics be seen as a necessary evil. Please.
Myron Weber is Managing Partner at Northwood Advisors.This article was inspired when some great folks at the Smart Data Collective invited me to participate in an Analytics Blogarama on the topic of “The Emerging Role of the Analyst.” Check out the rest of the entries at http://smartdatacollective.com/40832/analytics-blogarama-october-6-2011.