Lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of companies about business intelligence, and the ways that organizations attempt to deliver this key capability. While there is a broad understanding of the need to bridge the gap between the business and IT organizations, the evidence suggests that the gap remains unbridged at many companies.
A recent article on the subject from McKinsey: “Analytics Translator: The new must-have role” suggests that the rewards are getting bigger, rather than smaller for companies who succeed in providing business leadership for increasingly critical IT-enabled analytics projects. The logic goes that as data sets get bigger and data mining resources more sophisticated, firms will require a level of leadership that will ensure the maximum impact from their analytics.
The point of the article is persuasive; however, we have argued for a long time that this requirement already exists. In fact, it’s probably the biggest single reason why multifamily companies fail to reap the benefits of their business intelligence projects. As we explained in our own white paper: “Creating an Analytically-Driven leadership Culture,” if business people are blue and IT people are red, then the best business intelligence resources are purple. As both articles strongly suggest, purple people are among an organization’s most prized associates.
Who Can Bridge the Divide?
As the McKinsey article says, it’s helpful to define what an “analytics translator” (or purple person) is by understanding what they aren’t. One common misconception is to think of data architects or engineers as the leaders of analytical initiatives, with deep expertise in data modeling, for example.
The leader of a successful business intelligence initiative is more likely to be somebody who is tech-savvy, but who also has deep domain knowledge. They must be effective in working with functional leaders to identify and specify the business problems that will have the biggest impact on performance, or the critical success factors (CSFs). This requires an intuitive understanding of performance drivers and their relationship to the P&L, as well as the skill of collaborating with stakeholders to identify and address their needs.
Technical understanding remains important as the “purple” leader must understand the IT environment well enough to marshal resources to deliver the metrics that the business needs. They must also have an understanding of what is technically feasible - data sources and visualizations, dashboarding techniques, for example - as they lead the business in establishing insights that will help to drive performance.
Why the Data Model Matters
While data modeling ability is not the main prerequisite for our analytical leaders, the underlying data model is the secret sauce of a true BI capability. This is another area that firms routinely get wrong, as they start initiatives by trying to create reports or dashboards.
The right place to start is with the underlying data model, which organizes data from multiple source systems (“systems of record”) across the organization. The data model brings consistency and makes information easily available for calculations and presentation in the reporting and dashboard layers by creating a single source of truth. When organizations start with the reports and dashboards, rather than building the data model that supports the CSFs, they fail to create the foundation for a robust and future-proofed BI capability.
This is particularly problematic today in the multifamily industry, where many companies have characterized BI as a piece of software to be bought off the shelf, rather than a technology-enabled capability. While this approach can deliver some useful reporting, it skips the step of building an organization’s capacity to control its data and model the unique drivers of its business. This - as we noted in our 20 for ‘20 white paper earlier this year - has led to the widespread lack of enthusiasm for BI projects that we see among multifamily leaders.
Where to Find Purple People
It is tempting to react to identifying the need for “purple people” by going out and hiring them. However, this is not always the best next step. The best BI leaders tend to be people with a deep understanding of your business and your industry. It is better, where possible, to develop talent internally, ensuring that that development path includes a grounding in leading BI approaches.
There is one way that outside resources can definitely help. You can start your process by getting an experienced “tour guide” to lead your team through the process of building the foundations of your BI capability. It is all-too-common that strong business and technology people coexist within the same organization, but they do not have a shared language that allows them to communicate effectively with one another. This causes friction that is familiar to all of us; in the case of BI and analytics, it is the difference between success and failure.
With an almost limitless number of things that an organization could measure, the ability to identify the metrics that will have the biggest impact on business goals has become increasingly valuable. This, combined with the ability to lead IT-enabled projects to deliver those metrics, is the essence of the “purple” person. If you don’t have at least one in your organization today, start thinking about where they will come from tomorrow; and if you already have one, think about where you will get a second, and a third and so on. That will ultimately determine how well you will be able to compete in an increasingly analytics-driven future.