Memo to CIOs about Analytics: Pave where we walk

Innovating in Analytics, and thus becoming a more insightful organization, is often an exercise in frustration for both the business folk and the enterprise people.  The farther you get from the analytical "streetlights", the more difficult the conversations between the business-side and the CIO become.  CEOs and senior leadership need answers now to complex questions requiring insights from across corporate silos; IT folks prefer to build supportable solutions, and believe they need clear "requirements" (specifications for tools, processes, data, ...) to begin to help.

In over 30 years working with leadership & their analysts, I've heard them express the exact same useless-to-IT "requirements" - "We can't tell you exactly what we want nor what data is required, but we know what kinds of questions we need to answer NOW, & know that tomorrow's question WILL be different...

The business side must change the nature of the conversation with enterprise folk.  Rather than fruitless "what are the requirements" discussions, the business side must engage the CIO's people in deliberate joint needs-discovery exercises.  Our most successful clients create analytical innovation collaboratories between mission and IT:  a collection of relevant tools within some form of data "sandbox", facilitated by a small cadre of experts in exploratory analytics, with the specific mission of quick collaborative sprints to mission-relevant insight.  Mission-side gets answers; CIO gets mission-validated needs & live-fire vetting of tools and data.

CIOs should follow the footsteps of the folks responsible for designing walkways in the grassy expanse outside University of Maryland's McKeldin Hall - hold off the walkways until people define by use where the sidewalks should be, then pave where people walk.  Whether through collaboratories or some other mechanism, help the mission side get quickly to insight, and use that process to define needed tools and data.

From this perspective, "shadow IT" or "stealth IT" isn't a problem for the CIO, it's an opportunity to learn mission-validated "requirements"; the CIO's clients & internal market telling them what they actually need.

The Cowpath Conundrum...

A cautionary word about cowpaths.  It's tempting for CIOs to try to get "requirements" from somewhere other than the actual intended users - surrogate users, vendors' knowledge and experience, "best practices", etc.  Anyone who drives in Boston understands how painful it can be to use roads paved where cows walked.

Whether through use of collaboratories or other means, success in analytical innovation comes from paving where the analysts walk.