The Analytical Innovators

While many companies are beginning to cultivate benefits from their use of analytics, organizations that are getting the most value have a distinct approach. In this section, we introduce the Analytical Innovators, contrast their behaviors with other companies and discuss how these differences matter to organizational performance.

The concept of Analytical Innovators emerged when we combined responses to two of our survey questions, one about creating a competitive advantage with analytics and one about using analytics to innovate.15 We then grouped respondents into three distinct levels of analytics sophistication according to how they responded to both questions. (See Figure 2: Analytical Innovators — A Small Group of Analytics Leaders.)

Figure 2: Analytical Innovators — A Small Group of Analytics Leaders

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Respondents are at various levels of analytics sophistication.

Analytical Innovators are those respondents who strongly agree that analytics has helped improve their organizations’ ability to innovate and say that analytics has helped create a competitive advantage to a great extent. Analytics Practitioners are utilizing data, mostly to address tactical and operational issues, but are not innovating with analytics at the same level as Analytical Innovators. And Analytically Challenged organizations are struggling to use data beyond basic reporting and marketing applications.

Analytical Innovators are distinguished by several key characteristics: their mindset and culture, their actions and their outcomes.

Mindset and Culture

More than other companies, Analytical Innovators have developed an analytical mindset that supports the use of data and analytics across a wide range of corporate activities. They tend to view data as a core asset; they challenge the status quo; they believe in the possible; and they are open to new ways of thinking.

Data as a Core Asset: It’s Cultural Several executives in our interview series described data as a core asset — in their companies, analytical insights are part of the culture of the organization and are utilized in strategic decisions, both large and small. Analytics determines products and services, project success or failure, and the allocation of resources. Employees, whether data-oriented or not, utilize these insights in their decision-making processes.

Neel Sundaresan, senior director and head of eBay Research Labs, describes the role of analytic insights at eBay:

Everybody in the organization — whether you are a technical person, a researcher or an engineer, a product manager, a businessperson, or an analyst — has to be data-driven.


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8. Tweeted by Joel Cherkis on 10/21/12.

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14. L. Melnick, "Moneyball Strikes Again: How to Use Analytics for Sustained Competitive Advantage,” October 3, 2012.

15. The two questions were:

(a) To what extent does information and business analytics create a competitive advantage for your organization within its industry or markets?

(b) To what extent do you agree with the following statement? Analytics has helped improve my organization’s ability to innovate.

Managers that checked “great extent” for both questions were placed in the Analytical Innovators category.

16. T.H. Davenport and D.J. Patil, “Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century,” Harvard Business Review 90 (October 2012): 70-76.

17. “Chief Consumer Advocate: How Social Data Elevates CMOs,” white paper, Bazaarvoice and the CMO Club, Austin, TX, July 25, 2012.

18. Respondents in Analytically Challenged companies differ demographically in subtle but important ways from other survey participants. They tend to be in less senior management positions and have a slightly higher likelihood than other survey participants to work in operational functions. These demographic differences might be a contributing factor to their evaluations of their organizations as less analytically mature.

19. The prisoner’s dilemma refers to a non-zero-sum game that shows why two people may choose to betray each other even if cooperation is in their best interest. It’s based on the premise that two isolated prisoners involved in the same crime have the independent opportunity to either collaborate with each other by remaining silent or sell the other prisoner out. Each combination of possibilities results in a different outcome, with the best for both stemming from cooperation. The sucker’s side is the prisoner who remains silent but is betrayed by the other prisoner.

i. K.T. Greenfeld, “Loveman Plays ‘Purely Empirical’ Game as Harrah’s CEO,” August 6, 2010.