More than 10 years ago, on an early summer afternoon in 2005, I recall an interesting conversation with a friend about the potential of analytics, in an empty coffee shop on the beach. Having spent much of the previous decade helping clients derive value from traditional Business Intelligence (BI) and other IT implementations, we were conjecturing that the next wave might be business teams enhancing their decision making with better data and more detailed analysis, sometimes adopting advanced math. We spent hours talking about our collective experience, and the more we spoke, the more it piqued my curiosity.
Deriving Actionable Insights
Around that time, the emphasis on analytics was primarily for its predictive capabilities. Mainstream media played this up with cover stories on BusinessWeek (“Math will Rock Your World”, Jan 2005, ), by Stephen Baker) and in popular business books like Freakonomics, Steven Levitt & Co., 2005 and later Super Crunchers, Ian Ayres, 2007. However, within a couple of years, it became evident that the vast majority of businesses were still not convinced about the quality of data they collect, (many still aren’t!) and the fundamental need was to create organizational change. Companies needed to understand there was a better way to derive actionable business insights that would result in better decisions on the ground. More than just help with solving tough math problems, large enterprises needed the ability to dig deep into the data, working in the trenches to create a center of excellence tailored to address their specific gaps in knowledge, talent availability and problem solving skills essential to realize the analytics potential.
Along the way, changes in the business environment, innovations in the technology ecosystem, and the successes of data driven business models – creating digital role models like Google AdWords, and Facebook early on and Uber and AirBnB more recently – have redefined the Analytics opportunities for businesses. As social media platforms took off, companies took notice, and around 2009, consumer brands started warming up to “social listening.” Decoding social media conversations and other unstructured data became an important part of their analytics needs. Knowledge of semantic analysis, platform APIs, and client business context proved crucial in combining machine intelligence with human intelligence and delivering digital business insights.
Visualizing the Future
Another wave of Analytics for enterprises was around data visualization. I love saying “visualization is to analytics what email was to the Internet.” A simple, engaging and dynamic application that is used every day and helps with managing a business. The pioneering work and books of Edward Tufte and Stephen Few were an inspiration for many as they realized both the power of data visualization and that they needed help to do it well. Tableau’s meteoric rise and ever expanding footprint meant that by 2012 many companies had already invested in it and were looking for knowledge and expertise in embedding it within their businesses. The visual medium is crucial to democratizing access to data and allowing business users to quickly navigate to actionable insights.
Fast forward to 2015, and peering ahead, the future is bright! With the advent of multiple iterations of drones, intelligent machines, connected devices and wearables – from watches to activity trackers to devices that infer your state of mind from your breath, and the increasing buzz around the potential for the Internet of Things (IoT), we are at the cusp of some fundamental breakthroughs. In less than a decade, our machine generated data and algorithm driven interactions will far outnumber traditional data sources and applications. Analytics will gain all new interpretations, and business applications. The future of the space has infinite possibilities and is exceedingly exciting. As we head toward the close of 2015, we can look forward to the coming year assured that it will be filled with innovation and advancement. I feel fortunate to be a part of this incredible industry and look forward to the many advancements to come.