It’s fitting that Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” just came out in theaters. The movie, which is based on the 2003 book, is about how the Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane bucked conventional wisdom and used statistical data to analyze and pick players for the team. By digging into the numbers—and drawing on his industry knowledge—he created a winning team while spending much less than its competitors.
It’s an outcome that pretty much any business would want, right?
Using data to make better business decisions has weighed heavily on the minds of Chief Information Officers this year. In fact, more than cloud computing, apps, and every other kind of tech investment, IT execs put their money on business intelligence in 2011, according to a recent survey of IT execs at mid- to large-sized companies conducted by Global Institute for IT Management professor Jerry Luftman on behalf of the Society for Information Management.
The only problem?
The big guys are not getting it right. And that’s precisely why CEOs of smaller companies should pay attention.
When I spoke to Luftman about his survey he pointed out that his definition of “investment” goes beyond dollars and includes intangibles like time, effort, and attention. That’s not quite how most big companies view it. “Practitioners, consultants, and academics still don’t really understand what it takes to implement [business intelligence] effectively,” he says. They throw their money into the database and neglect the human component of industry knowledge that is necessary to leverage the tools and make sense of all that data.
To truly excel—and spend less money doing it—Luftman says companies need a dedicated BI team made up of a database person, a Ph.D. statistician, an expert on the knowledge management tool, and someone who knows the industry backward and forward.
That’s easier said than done—even for larger companies with bigger budgets.
For one thing, getting these different types of people to work together effectively poses a challenge. “It’s typically pretty tough because you’re going to get people with different perspectives, different languages, and now you expect them to work successfully on a team? It certainly happens, but it’s not likely,” he says.
It would be better to have all those skills and knowledge in one person. Or, better still, you’d have several people on your team who come with stats, database, and industry knowledge. But keep in mind, you may have to build this person, Luftman says. “In other words, get a person or some people that have as many of those skills and then fill in the blanks.”
Often, the biggest blank is in-depth and comprehensive industry knowledge. “We’ve got to learn that there are not too many things that IT could do [or] should do on their own without having close collaboration with their business partners.”
So, if you have plans to hire in 2012, or you’re thinking of giving your existing staff some additional training, know where your data and industry knowledge gaps are—and fill them.
The bigger dogs in your industry might be able to afford more wonks, but quantity isn’t the key here. It’s the quality and breadth of the analysis that matters.