The core problem with analytics today

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Marketers and business executives, in a recent study by Forrester Research, indicated 81% of executives were unsatisfied with the speed of analytics and 69% were unsatisfied with the quality of data. Why is this the case?

  • It has little to do with vendors or tools, though arguably some tools make life harder than it has to be.
  • It has little to do with technologists, analysts, or data scientists.
  • It even has little to do with organizational hierarchy or domains, though again, some businesses make life harder than it has to be with rigid silos.

The reason why is a fundamental mismatch of questions and answers. Business executives are asking one question, but expecting answers to another.

The role of analytics is to unlock data. Remember that analysis comes from the Greek analein, to loosen, to set free. Analysis is about extracting from data a sense of what happened.

The business executive certainly wants to know what happened. But chances are, the business executive also wants to know why. Why did those things happen? Why do we see X or Y pattern in the data?

Finally, the business executive wants to know what to do. What should we do next? How should we solve this problem?

Analytics is capable of delivering robust answers to the question of what happened. It is less capable of explaining why; that’s the domain typically of qualitative research, anthropology and ethnography.

Finally, analytics is, in its current state, exceptionally poor at prescription. Analytics can’t tell us why to do. That’s the role of strategists, who, armed with research and data, can project forward. Analytics is the rear view mirror in the car. It’s generally a very poor idea to drive the car forward while using only the rear view mirror as a navigational aid.

Our problem is not the tools.

Our problem is not the talent.

Our problem is answering the real question being asked.

To understand why analytics succeeds or fails in your organization, understand if you are answering the right questions.

  • Think not only in terms of what, but also why, and what to do next.
  • Anticipate the answers executives are truly asking and provide those answers proactively.
  • Build tools, dashboards, and workflows to generate the end product, not just the answer to the immediate question.

If we do this, our organization will be one of the few whose executives and stakeholders are satisfied with the speed and quality of our work.

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