Getting Started in Business Analytics & Data Science

Good business analysts are “bilingual” – able to speak fluently to both business managers and IT folks.   Here are a few next steps and concrete resources to dive into analytics and start building expertise:

1. Take a course on analytics, like this one from Loras College

2. Join the IIBA and get certified in the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge

3. Read up on better practices, especially books from Stephen Few at http://www.perceptualedge.com and for the fundamentals of information design, I love Edward Tufte’s work

4. Play with some tools:

5. Join a community of like-minded people:

 

 

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8 Ingredients to Turn Data into Useful Information

9-3-2014 blog image

Data Consumption Is Undergoing a Major Shift

The most common process in the management cycle is Gather. Organizations spend an incredible amount of time gathering data and trying to turn it into meaningful reports, dashboards, scorecards, and spreadsheets. In other words, turning numbers into knowledge.

The purpose of all this activity is to find out where you are performing well and where you need to make some changes. However, with the plethora of data we’re getting, and with the speed at which change happens and transactions occur, it’s getting harder to find out exactly where you stand. How, when, where, and why we consume data is undergoing a major shift.

To turn raw data into useful information that you interact with, you need at least the following ingredients:

  • A purpose or business question to answer (e.g., “What are our sales by region?” or “Who are our top customers?”)
  • A point of view for the consumer of the information (board, corporate, strategic business unit, line of business, division, team, territory, external)
  • Built-in relationships— hierarchies, dimensions including time periods, apples-to-apples like currency translations, and context— year-to-date, actual vs. plan, etc.
  • The right level of detail (according to business questions and consumer)
  • The right metrics— whether it’s a financial account like revenue, or an operational driver like headcount or a key performance indicator (KPI) or a ratio like productivity, it has to fit the business question
  • Timelines— the information has to be delivered be delivered and consumed in time to do something about it
  • Some comparative information— a variance to the plan or to a prior period or a benchmark
  • The right way to deliver the information to the consumer (the right tool and platform)

You can learn more about EPM and how it can help your organization build a common business process to execute its strategy in my book Enterprise Performance Management Done Right: An Operating System for Your Organization (Wiley CIO)

A Management Operating System

I would like to introduce a framework for thinking about Enterprise Performance Management and Business Intelligence. The genesis of this framework came from my days working at Hyperion Solutions (later acquired by Oracle Corp.). It’s been called a management “operating system” for your company because, like the operating system of your computer, it helps govern input and output and manage what applications (or decisions) are being run and helps make the most effective use of resources (memory, disk space, CPU cycles). You can start anywhere on this closed-loop process to tell the management operating system story, and today I’ll share Gather – the most common part of the cycle, with you.

Enterprise Performance Management, A Management Operating System, EPM, Ron Dimon

A Management Operating System

Gather – While you are busy running your business (Execution, which means service customers, making products, selling in markets), you are generating lots of data. You gather that data and transform it into useful information (according to its context) and deliver it to the right people (according to impact and areas of responsibility).

This is the place where managers consume reports about the results of the business. It’s where they answer the question “where are we, right now?” Depending on your industry and your business, there are generally two kinds of reports: mostly financial and mostly operational. The trend has been to combine financial and operational information on one report, which is a good idea since the two are interrelated: financial investments help drive operational results, and effective operations help contribute to financial performance.

Reports are delivered in a variety of formats with a variety of tools and can be categorized as:

  • Canned (static) reports
  • Ad hoc or interactive reports
  • Dashboards and scorecards
  • Spreadsheets

Reports give their readers a snapshot of what results have been produced to date to help them gauge how close to their goals and targets they are.

You can learn more about EPM and how it can help your organization build a common business process to execute its strategy in my book Enterprise Performance Management Done Right: An Operating System for Your Organization (Wiley CIO)

Information Qualities

© Ruth Dimon, 2013

Photo © Ruth Dimon, 2013

When thinking about turning data into information, you have to consider all of the different qualities of that information. The following list is not exhaustive, but it’s more complete than we usually get when planning how and when (and where) we gather our data and transform it into something people can use.

This list is especially useful when designing business intelligence systems and planning on how to gather data and turn it into useable information.

Business Qualities of Information

Answering Business Questions

Photo © Ruth Dimon, 2013

Photo © Ruth Dimon, 2013

Businesses have a ton of information.  The usual starting place for trying to understand all that information is a desire to answer a business question.
There are, at least, four foundational questions:

  1. Where are we right now compared to where we said we would be?
  2. Why did we get what we got? What happened to give us those results?
  3. What do we want to happen? What is possible in our industry, in this economy? And what’s next?
  4. How will we get it done?Who will do what, and by when?

These questions help us align our strategy, objectives, and initiatives with our intended results. They help challenge our objectives and help generate and reveal our assumptions, constraints, and value drivers. The answers to these questions should Read more of this post

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