Recent studies about analytics are scary. Together with The Economist Intelligence Unit, ZS associates just released a report showing that while 70% of executives qualify sales and marketing analytics as “very” or “extremely” important to their competitive advantage, only 2% of them believe that the recent transformations have had a “broad and positive impact”.

A bit earlier, Iron Mountain and PwC surveyed 1800 North American and European executives about the usage of their information assets. The outcome was pretty much the same: some 43% of the organizations surveyed obtain little tangible benefit from their information, and 23% derive no benefit whatsoever. As Richard Petley, Data Quality and Governance Leader at PwC, perfectly outlined : “When it comes to information management, many of the world’s leading organizations don’t know what they don’t know and aren’t trying to find out.”

Despite the fact that global organizational spending on big data is one of the fastest growing, studies show that they are far from delivering their full potential. Identifying the causes of the problem is one thing, finding out how to eradicate them to truly leverage the power of analytics is another. Let’s explore both sides of the problem.

Why analytics don’t drive action

The many surveys conclude that analytics currently don’t find their way to concrete business actions, which of course reduces the chances of a high return on investment. The reasons are multiple:

  • In most cases, analytics are insulated within companies. As they often don’t get sufficient senior executive support, they appear to be disconnected from the top. And as they are not embedded in the marketing and sales people’s life, they end up being disconnected from the bottom, too. To deliver real impact, analytics should be part of everybody’s agenda, deployed from the C-suite to the base, and discussed with a common and simple vocabulary.
  • Analytics suffer from poor data integration. As the consulting firm Capgemini outlined, one of the most important hurdles for efficient analytics is the scattering of data lying in silos across various teams. Besides vertical deployment, there is also a strong need to consider data as a transversal subject within firms.
  • Analytics stay technology-driven. Big data is a hot and complex topic. But complexity shouldn’t be the reason why it’s hot. Of course, the best data scientists are needed to set up efficient solutions ; but at the end of the journey, the usability of big data solutions must be the only matter of concern.

How to empower your workforce with high-level analytics applications

These three root causes of inefficient big data strategies could be largely avoided by (truly) putting the focus on the end user. Just as any business nowadays desperately needs to be customer-oriented, big data strategies likewise must be designed to fit their specific customers. After all, they are the ones who actually take the actions that improve customer engagement. Of course, dedicated resources, good data sources and technology are important to settle on the best solution. However, they should be set up as a consequence of what the end user needs instead of the opposite. In this context, applications or “apps” are key to make analytics succeed:

  • Apps are people-oriented, they are designed for personal usage and address the users’ daily problems. They are embedded in their day-to-day job and serve as a guide for reaching business objectives.
  • Backed by predictive as well as prescriptive analytics, apps do much more than show nice indicators. Making recommendations, they enable the user to take specific actions such as restocking that point of sales, sending that message to that customer at that moment, or to invest in billboards in that specific region.
  • Well designed apps are fun and easy to use. There is no need to be a data scientist to appropriate them. Based on advanced analytics, apps introduce gamification into business life while saving valuable time for sales and marketing professionals.

Analytics is just part of the phenomenon

Applications have entered B2C markets massively. Whether it’s to connect with each other, access information, manage bank accounts, order food or book transportation, apps are now part of our daily personal lives.

But as GE claims in a recent report, the “app economy” will also drive the fourth industrial revolution. Systems, machines and products will be increasingly guided by industrial apps. To survive, most traditional industries will have to reinvent themselves as tech companies, using industrial apps to answer questions such as “How do we optimize time for customers and employees?”, “How do we make more responsive, real-time decisions?”, “How do we shave time off production and distribution?”. Customers may not be aware of industrial apps that operate “behind the curtains” but these apps could have an even greater impact on their lives.

The trend is already visible. B2B and industrial apps are popping up everywhere. Examples like Salesforce, which has been transforming the traditional CRM environment into an app environment ; Xpenditure, that specializes in expense management for enterprises ; Wonderware, global leader in real time operations software, and many others, show that we just entered a new world. Analytics per se will not transform the business rules. But they have a great role to play in the advent of the so-called “app economy”, which in turn is the only way to make it really successful.

Loïc Jacobs van Merlen, co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer at Real Impact Analytics