The Key Ingredient for Analytics Success: Leadership

By Evan Wood of CMA's Customer Insights & Analytics Council

It sounds obvious to say that leadership is critical for every organization attempting to become more data driven. Yet this needs to be reinforced given that so many analytics programs are failing to meet expectations. In fact, a recent article from the Harvard Business Review showed that fewer than half of analytics programs in their research study met their initial return-on-investment (ROI) goals.

For those of us who were around for the CRM craze in the late 1990s/early 2000s, this may seem to be something of a déjà vu. It’s now part of industry lore that despite the billions of dollars spent on platforms and people, research firms such as Gartner estimated that 50 to 80 percent of those CRM implementations failed. Arguably, it was for substantially the same reasons as analytics programs are underperforming today: the absence of senior-level leadership.

But why is executive leadership in particular so crucial to successful analytics initiatives? The simple answer is that data and analytics are enormously disruptive. And when there is disruption with an organization, only strong leadership backed by sound strategy can help keep all stakeholders aligned around a common purpose.

In 2011, global consultancy McKinsey and Co. released its landmark report entitled “Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity”. Since that time organizations have been seeking to capitalize on these data assets. And it is generally agreed that harnessing data (big and small) to reveal deeper consumer insights holds enormous potential for gains across the enterprise: marketers can create more targeted, relevant campaigns; customer service and support centres can deliver superior experiences through consumers’ preferred channels; product development can tap into realtime data and analytics to tailor products for key audiences and geographies; and so on.

However, data and analytics initiatives force change upon companies, often challenging the status quo. Decision makers may need to think differently as they face new realities, challenges and opportunities revealed by data. And while this presents the exciting potential for innovation and optimization across organizations, it also creates change and very likely, some discomfort and sense of vulnerability. Which means that data and analytics programs need to be accompanied by effective change management to truly realize the advantages that data and analytics can offer.

As organizations embark on their analytical journey, senior leaders – particularly the CEO – should consider the following:

  • Turning an organization into a data-driven enterprise is a transformative process and significant undertaking. This requires c-level leadership to champion and sustain the cause. This is increasingly the domain of new roles such as the Chief Analytics Officer and Chief Data Officer, positions created to drive data and analytics-related programs throughout the enterprise.  
  • CEOs must be aware of the impact of new strategic priorities on other members of the c-suite. A newly appointed designate invested with significant influence will be disruptive to others on the senior leadership team who may feel their own impact has been diminished. This needs to be proactively managed by the CEO by aligning his team around the vision and journey ahead.
  • Successfully implementing data and analytics across the enterprise requires a well-planned strategy. This means ensuring the organization’s business priorities are data-driven and required linkages across departments and business units are articulated to all stakeholders. Additionally, the strategic plan needs to clearly define the intended value to be generated by data and analytics, helping to set expectations and future measurement.
  • At a departmental level, a cross-functional and agile analytics team is required to translate the strategy into effective tactics. A multi-disciplinary team can effectively connect the more technical aspects of data management and analytical processes with business strategy, avoiding “broken telephone” scenarios and simply creating another silo.
  • To truly embrace data and analytics and generate tangible results, organizations must incorporate quantitative methods in their decision-making and processes. This cannot be an afterthought or “nice to have” element but a strategic intent to be data driven and use data and analytics to help address competitive challenges. Performance and compensation need to be aligned to these processes accordingly.
  • Storytelling around key successes and milestones on the analytical journey can reinforce the vision, strategy and role that data and analytics play in the organization while demonstrating quantitative results. This in turn can accelerate the adoption of data and analytics by some of the lagging departments and business units.

While data and analytics initiatives offer the promise of innovation and competitive advantage, they are likely to disrupt traditional mindsets and processes across the enterprise. For organizations to become truly data-driven and to reap the benefits at every level, it is critical for the c-suite to exhibit strong leadership around these initiatives and ensure an equal level of emphasis is placed on change management.


Evan Wood is Senior Vice President of Marketing and Custom Services at Environics Analytics.

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Tags: ceo, leadership, crm, data, analytics, c-suite, quantitative