Curiosity, Analytics, and Your Bottom Line

This post originally appeared on TDWI Upside.

Curiosity — the desire to dig in and learn more — sounds like a luxury or, at worst, a waste of time to some business leaders, like an R&D project without end or payoff. However, if employees have the right environment to explore their business — and it yields significant payoff — then it’s well worth the investment.

Employees who have the means to be inquisitive can generate great opportunities. Some of Google’s top innovations came about when the company gave their employees 20 percent of their work week to explore side projects. Warren Berger shows in his book A More Beautiful Question that asking questions is one of the most powerful ways to foster change in business.

Unfortunately, many companies haven’t set their people up to be curious. There are three main factors:

  • People: Business users — not just technical analysts — need to know how to interpret data, and business leaders need to set expectations about the importance of making data-driven decisions. They need to hold their people accountable for knowing their data inside and out.
  • Process: Maybe your organization only gives a highly technical group access to data. If so, that group is probably overworked and frustrated. Meanwhile, your business users likely have lots of questions about their customers and prospects. If your analytics approach hasn’t evolved, their view may be limited to a dashboard of fixed metrics and whatever ad hoc reporting their technical counterparts have bandwidth to produce. If they see something unusual in their reports and want to learn more, they know it will be days or weeks to get additional data back, so they often decide the delayed response doesn’t justify making the request.
  • Technology: Your team might be curious, but having outdated, cumbersome tools that won’t let them work at the speed of their imagination will kill their curiosity.

If you don’t have these components in place, you’re not set up to leverage the power of people’s creativity and problem solving. We saw this with one of our customers, SnapAV.

Adam Levy, SnapAV’s president, wanted his team to be curious — to understand their business on a much deeper level, but their existing processes and tools got in the way. If Levy asked a team member how a particular product was doing, he would get vague or incomplete responses.

“In the old way, I’d get ‘we think’ or ‘we hear’ or ‘we’re not sure’ as answers from my team,” said Levy. They would have to chase down answers with a technical resource and then follow up with Levy days later. Levy estimates 80-90% of those data requests can now be answered in seconds.

SnapAV made a conscious change to foster curiosity. When they upgraded their data analytics solution, they gave direct access to business users and their leaders.

The conversations have changed. For starters, looking for data insights has become an everyday practice. “Now when a question comes up in a meeting, we stop the conversation, open up our laptops, and get the answer for us to look at together,” said Levy. “It moves the conversation forward.”

For SnapAV, it’s more than just conversation. They recently unearthed a $1M opportunity that might not have been possible with their old way of doing things.

SnapAV’s business was growing, but they noticed a critical customer segment was not growing as much as the others. An initial theory tied this slower growth to a geographical area. They did some quick analysis and realized this was not the case. Then they looked at each segment and category. It was instantly evident SnapAV had an opportunity with their larger customers in a certain category of products. All of this took minutes to discover.

SnapAV validated the situation by surveying customers in this segment. Within a few weeks, they had rolled out a sales program targeted at that customer segment.

The cultural shift is now well underway at SnapAV. “We quickly developed habits of looking at things more often and from more angles,” said Levy.

“We’re all using this. Any of us can say, ‘Hey, look what I figured out,’ and you see the wheels turning. If we can ignite enough of this, that’s a really good thing for our organization.”

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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