Today I read …"Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders"

03eabdf45949862b8e07c5936This is the another post in my “Today I read …” series where I aim to summarise. or recapitulate, excellent, and educational, articles that I have read. (Or in this case, a webinar that I have seen).

Previous: Today I Read … “Systems Thinking in Business Analysis: Why It Counts”

Today I followed the webinar on the IIBA site: “Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders: Why It Counts”, presented by by Wayne Eckerson.

While it became evident later in the presentation that Eckerson was talking a slightly different language than the audience (he used the term “business analyst” to mean someone who worked with BI), Eckerson, president of BI Leader Consulting, and an “Expert Blogger” at TDWI, discusses four main topics:

  1. He surfaces key points to running an effective BI and analytical program.
  2. He discusses an Analytical Success Framework.
  3. He profiles the seven people that he interviewed to get the key points mentioned in 1.
  4. He goes into detail about Managing a BI team.

Although he was coming from a BI perspective, everything he mentioned was valuable and can be used in all facets of a business.

1. The key points to running an effective BI and Analytical program.

Eckerson interviewed seven BI professionals who have run successful BI and analytical programs, and asked them “what were the secrets or the keys to running an effective BI and analytical program?”

From the answers he distilled out four key themes:

  • Deliver value fast
  • Partner with the business
  • Manage change
  • Be a purple person!!

He expands on these as follows:

Deliver value fast

You can have the most elegant architecture, the greatest processes, the most wonderful tools, but if you’re not meeting the business needs as fast as they want them met, then all is for naught because they’re going to look elsewhere for data and information and insight.

This applies not just to BI, but to all sort of things. I’ve known of departments that are unable to get the right type of help, or support, from IT department, so they start doing things “under the radar. think of “social tools”. Social tools are supported by the IT department, so little groups of individuals go and finds ways of using these themselves (Yammer, etc). There’s no official way to easily share documents, so departments find ways (usually resulting in little silo’s of content). Or, for the biggy, think about customer service. If you’re not responsive, the customer will start looking elsewhere.

Partner with the business

To deliver value fast, you really have to partner with the business. You just can’t sit in your team in the IT department and expect to work effectively with the business. You really have to collocate with the business and sit side by side with them and be really one team instead of two teams.

This is something that I have been saying for awhile. Again, this doesn’t just apply to BI. The best way to really understand the business, is to be part of it. (Some of my previous posts that touch on this can be read here, here and here.)

Manage Change

Any time we introduce new technology or introduce new information or display it in a different way, it forces people to change the way they absorb information and make decisions.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Change is not always productive. There are many ways that this can be handled. And change has got to make sense. Upgrading to the latest version of Microsoft office needs to be a business decision, not an IT one.There has to be a reason for the change. One that will either solve a problem, or add real business value.

Be a Purple Person

A “purple person” is someone who can easily walk in both the worlds of IT and Business and feels totally at home. They’re savvy businesspeople, yet they’re also exquisite technologists.

2. Analytical Success Framework

BI is like an onion. It has layers – Culture, People, Organization, Process, Architecture, Data.

BI Layers - BI Leader Consulting

BI Layers – BI Leader Consulting

Eckerson points out that BI and IT teams focus on the inner layers – process, architecture, and data. Where the focus really needs to be is on the outer layers – organization, people, and culture. You need to get these three layers right before you concentrate on the inner three.

3. The People He Interviewed

This part of the presentation held a lot of great gems. To come up with his key success factors Eckerson had talked with seven people. He describes the role each person had in their company, and what they had done to make their BI teams successes.This was really valuable. The people he talked with were

  • Dan Ingle, from Kelley Blue Book – Dan put a lot of effort into self-organising teams (think Scrum) that were functional (as opposed to dysfunctional).
  • Amy O’Connor, from Nokia Amy was instrumental in bringing together all teh various data sources so that it could be useful. This involved breaking up the silos, and make people feel uncomfortable. Amy tackled this by creating small groups of like-minded people whose enthusiasm spread.
  • Darren Taylor, from Blue KC – Darren came from the business side of things and was put in charge of the BI unit. Identifying that each department had set up their own data silos, and each had their own tools that worked differently from the other departments, Darren worked to get standardization of both data, data models, and applications.
  • Eric Colson, from Netflix – Eric decided that the quickest and best way to have one person do it all. They had to be the right sort of person, and they did everything from gathering requirements to testing the software. These people (who he called “spanners” as they spanned right across the BI stack) would be placed in each department in the business.
  • Tim Leonard,from USXpress – Tim was the driver behind a BI Excellence Centre. He introduced governance and standardization.
  • Kurt Thearling, from CapitalOne – The thing that is most important to Ken, for BI, is that the data scientists have clean, consistently defined, readily available data elements that they will use to build their models. (This is something that I have heard from the BI bods that I have dealt with.)
  • Ken Rudin, from Zynga – Ken didn’t like the way that all the analysts sat in their own section of the building. if the business had a question, oneof the analyst would go down and talk to them. Ken was a big advocateof having his BI staff working “in” the business. Sitting with them.

4. Managing a BI Team

Eckerson describes some very common scenarios:

Top-down BI

This is where most of the BI request come down from casual users who want standard reports and dashboards that give them the correct information so that they can manage and manage their area of the business.

Bottom-up BI

This is where the requests for data are more ad-hoc. less standard. These people just want the data that they want, and dump it into a spreadsheet so that they can do what they want with it. In each of these areas, BI can be broken down to:

Enterprise BI – enterprise production oriented reports, usually cross-functional. These are produced by the corporate BI team.

Divisional BI – BI teams that are working just for that division with their own silo of information, and their own methods and models.

BI - circle This can cause many inefficiencies. To counter this Eckerson proposes Federated BI Teams.

Federated BI   With a federated team, BI staff are embedded in each business division. They work alongside the business, and are, essentially, on the same team. In each of the business divisions there is also a “Relationship Manager”, this is someone who knows the business inside-out, and can be alert for improvement opportunities. Not just as an “order-taker”, but someone who can offer insight, and suggestions. (Essentially the role of a BA/Consultant). These Relationship Managers (from each division) report back to a central, corporate BI office that coordinates the work being done across the whole business.


As mentioned, this presentation  had a BI focus. However, there were a lot of really great gems in it. I frequently found myself nodding my head, and saying “I’ve seen that in other areas.”, or “I know where I can apply that.”

Eckerson was promoting his book “The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders.”

The link to the webinar is:

The transcript can be accessed here, and the slides here,

Note: these are accessible only for IIBA members

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Thanks for reading.

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