Dan Harrington is executive vice president of consulting and support services for Teradata. He recently sat down to discuss what companies should expect from their analytics consultants and how to quickly find value in their analytics investments.
There is a lot of trial and error for companies making data analytics investments, and people can of get distracted and give up. They invest in these data science teams — it’s a rare skill set — they go out and spend a lot of money to get them, but they don’t really have a systemic, process-driven means to evaluate use cases, prove the value to help them prioritize which use cases to actually go operationalize and then put them in use.
Sometimes even if they do get a really valuable analytic insight, that last mile of pushing that analytic insight into the right point of a business process so the decision makers have that insight when they need it to do something different is really hard. That’s where the rubber meets the road in the era of analytics.
Which business areas of the business can analytics impact the most?
The leading area where we see analytics being applied effectively is in customer experience. When companies improve their analytic accuracy, it enables them to focus and refine what it is their customers like and what keeps them engaged, and coming back. By gaining insights into these behavioral patterns of the customer, we can reveal the customer-facing areas a company should improve or change. With some of our clients that apply analytics to improving the customer experience we have seen a massive improvement in the popularity of offers and recommendations for their customers. Some have even won awards in customer satisfaction after implementing our solution.
We also see the areas of finance transformation, product innovation, risk mitigation, supply gain intelligence and assets optimization around IoT as prime for analytics-driven decision-making.
Who within an organization are the stakeholders that need to be at the table to drive truly actionable business insights?
Typically, the decision-making is coalescing around centers of excellence, or a C-level role focused on maximizing a company’s data assets. There’s been this real trend and momentum around chief analytics officers and chief data officers — new roles being defined at executive levels to really address these gaps. These role are being created at executive levels to coordinate the diverse stakeholders that need to come together to gain insights.
Before, there was no focal point to drive the matter that was close enough to the business. The net of these new positions is the recognition that somebody has to be the focal point other than the CEO, or even the CIO, to drive this kind of change agenda around data.
Another key trend in this vein is the emergence of centers of excellence. Whether focused on maximizing data assets or implementing new analytics, they pull in all the stakeholders so they are driving it for the company in a way that is collaborative, collective and cross-functional.
What needs to be done in terms of education and training? Should that be a big priority for companies?
There’s a movement here at Teradata to drive an analytics academy training curriculum to mentor those roles within our client teams. A vendor could staff a company’s needs for six months or so while employees at the company are ramping up their skill sets. We’re mentoring them, we’re collaboratively defining these new processes and, eventually, we hand that center of excellence in a steady-state operational mode to the people who have been mentored for that six-month period.
Many companies left to their own devices will stagger around for a year and a half, or two years, trying to muscle through workforce transformation and training. Partnering with a trusted and knowledgeable advisor like Teradata can really accelerate that process, getting it down to months.
In that initial engagement, what is the role of the consultant?
Our role as a consultant is to come in as a trusted adviser. Through our Rapid Analytic Consulting Engagement framework we hit the ground running to solve very specific business problems. From that point, we do what I talked about earlier. We help our customers establish an analytics program and that center of excellence. We bring all the key stakeholders together, make recommendations on technologies and analytics techniques and show rapid business impact. Eventually the plan is be to turn it over to our clients, but up front we accelerate time to value by giving them a template, of sorts.
With RACE, we can work with the company and identify their strong skill sets and capabilities around analytics. For every company the engagement will be slightly different, and we can work toward a common goal based on those capabilities, accounting for company size.
From an organizational perspective, how should companies work with a consultant to create a data architecture?
Our Ecosystem Architecture Consulting helps companies avoid trial and error, where they are speculating what technologies and platforms is best suited for both their immediate, and long term, analytics needs. It’s complicated and challenging to sort that all out, but the opportunity allows them to optimize that ecosystem to use the right technology for the right job. Rather than dealing with that alone, why not engage somebody who has designed these ecosystems for hundreds of clients and can bring those leading practices to you?
We can also help the company deal with internal versus external data sources, or structured versus unstructured data. It’s possible they have data that they haven’t typically analyzed or haven’t had the ability to analyze when they could get value out from it by using a consultant.
What characteristics should companies look for in a consulting company?
You want a partner that spans the full life cycle, from a strategic advisory role to deep technical skills. You also need someone who can then manage and optimize the environment over time, not just disappear when you might need them. Like anything, analytics need to evolve and be optimized over time because models get stale, performance degrades and workloads change.
From an architecture perspective, you need a partner that can integrate the company’s open source and commercial solutions. Because we’re not a pure consultancy model and we invest money in research and development, partnering with a company like us allows you innovate quickly. Consultants typically wait until a technology gets widely adopted before doing in-house training on it so they aren’t wasting money. By partnering with us, it allows you to be an innovator with analytics rather than a fast follower.
Dan Harrington is executive vice president of consulting and support services for Teradata, reporting to Vic Lund. He is responsible for leading the global consulting organization focused on helping customers architect, implement and manage the analytic ecosystem, including Teradata products on premises, in the cloud, and open-source technologies. In addition, he guides the customer services organization as they deliver world-class support to customers around the globe, and the development of analytical business solutions.