You’ve seen the numbers from Gartner that show that 85% of analytics projects fail, a disturbing statistic for those of us invested in an analytic project. Though the reasons given can vary—from failing to choose the right technology to using the wrong data for analysis—I think the real reason so many projects fail to thrive is less associated with technical issues, and is instead the result of one mistake: failure to designate a product-focused champion to lead the project from the outset.
Making Analytics a Priority
Starting any project is difficult when you consider the need to balance competing priorities, differing opinions, and company politics, but I would argue that it’s much more difficult to get started with an analytics initiative. In almost every case I’ve seen, introducing embedded analytics into a product is treated as a sideline project, because analytics aren’t seen as a central component of the business growth strategy. As a result, analytic projects can easily be dismissed as less important than the “real work” of building the business’s core application or delivering the primary services for which they are known.
That’s a big part of why you must have a champion—ideally a product-focused leader—to spearhead your analytics effort and reinforce the message that analytics can be a key differentiator, not just when embedded within applications but as a part of any business interested in making data-driven decisions. They help deliver actionable insights that can attract new customers, new revenue streams, and reduce the possibility of customer churn, to name but a few benefits. But companies will only see these results if they follow the guidance of the champion and get their product to market.
The Role of the Champion
The champion is charged with ensuring, regardless of competing initiatives, that the analytic application is implemented, launched, and iterated upon, as with any functionality you release. Without a champion, the project is at a far greater risk of languishing. Though there are a number of key responsibilities for champions—like identifying stakeholders and establishing a project timeline—two responsibilities are the most important:
• Acting as the stand-in for the user
• Ensuring the analytic application is always evolving
Act as the Stand-In for the User
The role of the analytics champion extends far beyond getting the project infrastructure in place to actually driving business value for the end users. The champion must keep the team focused on the user experience and the positive business outcomes the company wants to achieve.
Consider the difference in initial experience between the iPhone and Android. Android focused their marketing efforts on the technical aspects: 2.4GHz Snapdragon processor and more than 4GB of RAM on a 6.2-inch OLED screen. Buyers were left to wonder: what are these things and are they important?
Apple, on the other hand, focused exclusively on the intangible aspects that would resonate with its buyers. They explained how one could capture memories, share with family, and bring circles of friends closer—all with the buyer’s iPhone. Buyers didn’t have to wonder if these things were important to them; they already knew that these experiences were essential to who they were and who they wanted to become.
That is the role of the product champion: to illustrate the benefit of the analytic application for the business but also for the end users who would have access to insights that help them make more educated business decisions. This person must consider the user’s position and develop and communicate the vision of what life will look like after the analytic application is launched. Without a user-centric champion, you run the risk of creating analytics that, while technically capable, don’t deliver the business value that keeps users continuously engaged.
Ensure the Analytic Application is Always Evolving
As with any major product feature, once the analytic application has launched then you must constantly evolve and iterate to meet your users’ continuously changing requirements. With analytic applications, like many technical projects, significant emphasis is placed on development and the initial launch so you can move on to the next feature or project. While this may work for certain types of development initiatives, it isn’t optimal for analytic products.
More than any other type of technology product, analytics must constantly evolve to keep pace with the changing business environment. If you treat the launch of an analytic application as the endpoint, then you’ll fail. The process of designing, building, launching, and iterating your analytics applications must be monitored, managed, and driven ever forward. This is the role of the champion.
Ideally, your champion should be market-facing and in constant touch with what’s working well and where users are struggling. The champion should even be a bit of a pest, pushing the rest of the organization to always think about the future. The result should be an analytic application that is continuously improved to deliver maximum business value.
Go Forth and Build
Some companies may be concerned that they’re risking investing time and resources into an analytics project that fails to deliver business results. However, putting the analytics project in the hands of a strong, capable champion will ensure this does not happen. Success is far more likely with a leader who is able to understand and articulate the needs of the users and focus the project on delivering experiences that deliver better business outcomes rather than focusing on adding more features. One who understands that analytics isn’t an end state but the beginning of a journey. Designating a product champion is the first step in ensuring that you successfully introduce an analytics application that delivers high-value analytics to your end users.
Kevin Smith is Vice President of Product Marketing for GoodData. Prior to GoodData, Kevin was responsible for delivering consulting services such as analytic product strategy, data monetization, and go-to-market services at NextWave Business Intelligence. He is the author of numerous ebooks, articles, and webinars on embedded analytics and building data products. In addition to NextWave, Kevin has held leadership positions heading analytics teams, designing SaaS products, and performance and managing product teams for both small start-ups and Fortune 500 companies such as SAP, ServiceSource, and Qwest Communications. Kevin holds a B.S. in Finance, as well as an M.B.A. in Quality/Process Management, both from the University of Maryland, College Park.