From Value to Vision: Reimagining the Possible with Data Analytics

What makes companies that are great at analytics different from everyone else

by: David Kiron, Renee Boucher Ferguson, Pamela Kirk Prentice

How organizations capture, create and use data is changing the way we work and live. This big idea, which is gaining currency among executives, academics and business analysts, reflects a growing belief that we are on the cusp of an analytics revolution that may well transform how organizations are managed, and also transform the economies and societies in which they operate.

Among companies, this revolution has several dimensions. First, companies have more data to use than ever before, at a volume and with a variety that are unparalleled in human history. Second, by using internal and external data, companies are beginning to understand patterns of consumer activity that had once been impossible to perceive or act upon. And third, companies are using new analytic tools and services to understand their own operations and behavior at a much finer level of detail, enabling new questions to be asked and answered.

At the vanguard of this revolution are companies that are using analytics to compete and to innovate. Understanding these companies gives insight into both the direction and the pace of the analytics revolution. Lessons about what hurdles these companies face and how they are addressing them suggest a path forward for many other companies.

As part of a multiyear research initiative, MIT Sloan Management Review is partnering with SAS Institute Inc. to better understand companies that are shaping, and are being shaped by, this analytics revolution. In 2012, we conducted a survey of more than 2,500 respondents in two dozen industries. Fifty-five percent of the respondents were executives at the vice president/director level or above. The survey included over 30 detailed questions about how organizations are using data to advance their business objectives. We also interviewed 29 academics and senior information technology executives at a diverse group of companies, including eBay, Inc., Kaiser Permanente, LinkedIn Corporation, Neiman Marcus, Inc., PayPal, Inc., PepsiCo, and Southern California Edison Company.

Fully 67% of survey respondents report that their companies are gaining a competitive edge from their use of analytics.


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6. ”Governor Patrick Announces New Initiative.”

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

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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.

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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.

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