We all know that when it comes to hiring, retaining and motivating employees, money only goes so far. A strong employee recognition program, and perks like flexible work schedules, no doubt help. But if you really want employee buy-in and loyalty, give them something that will enable them to feel a sense of ownership and participation in the company’s business strategy: Put analytics in the hands of every employee.
That piece of advice was my key takeaway from a recent interview with Arijit Sengupta, CEO of BeyondCore, a data analytics company in San Mateo, Calif. Sengupta argues that executives are missing a huge opportunity to empower their employees with analytics. So why aren’t more executives putting analytics in the hands of their employees? What’s standing in the way? Sengupta explained it this way:
For many executives, analytics is more of a time sink than anything else. In order to discover the right insights in their data, employees have to do a lot of heavy lifting. They have to cleanse their data, manually check for statistical relevance, determine the right questions to ask of their data, present the data in an easy-to-digest manner, and accurately interpret the graphs. This burdens employees with lots of tasks that they have to perform before they can get actionable results from analytics, but it does not empower them. So executive are stuck between giving employees lots of training and time to learn and do analytics, or having the employee perform their day jobs. BeyondCore does all the heavy lifting, which then empowers business users to unlock the full potential of their data through analytics.
I asked Sengupta to what extent executives see analytics as something they need to keep close to the vest as a means of strengthening their own positions in the company. Fortunately, he said, this kind of thinking is dying out fast:
Everyone recognizes the core competitive advantage of analytics, and any level of the organization that is not empowered with analytics risks making incorrect decisions. A centralized command and control approach does not work anymore because of the speed of business decisions. If you want your organization to learn from and react to ever-changing opportunities and threats, you simply can’t restrict access to analytics.
According to the material I received in the course of arranging the interview with Sengupta, all of this is “like something out a sci-fi movie,” in that Sengupta “believes societal implications loom when only a small group of people understand the power of analytics,” and that “data in the hands of a few can be dangerous for many.” I asked Sengupta to elaborate on that, and he did so this way:
Today we obsess over the disparity in wealth distribution. Analytics and ideas is the currency of the future. In the future, we will instead obsess over the disparity between those with the power of analytics, and those without. Even recent graduates with a background in statistics and/or analytics are paid astronomical amounts by the thousands of companies in desperate need of analytical talent. What is even more dangerous is that we are beginning to depend on a small group of experts and magical black box algorithms to tell us how to run our companies, manage our health, and decide our future. Sounds like a plot of an apocalyptic movie? But it could fast become reality if we are not careful to empower everyone with the power of analytics.
I asked Sengupta if he has any empirical or anecdotal evidence to back up his contention that putting analytics in the hands of every employee increases employee engagement, loyalty and retention, or if this is more of a hypothesis. His response:
The best evidence of this is the difference in attitudes that occurred with the shift from centralized data processing departments run by experts, to every business user being able to use Excel, Word and PowerPoint. What happened in office productivity then will happen to analytics once we make analytics accessible to every business user.
To wrap up the discussion, Sengupta provided his sense of what analytics products must achieve in order to be effective:
Every company seems to claim to empower the business user. The goal is to empower any business user to analyze their own data in just five minutes. Why is this important? No company has enough trained analysts. If the business user has to undergo training or has to change their daily routines to leverage analytics, they simply won’t adopt it fast enough. Every company’s data is unique. Customizing solutions for each dataset and each use case simply doesn’t make sense. Finally, most business users are overwhelmed by all that they have to do. If they can’t get their insights in just minutes, they move on to the next item on their to-do list. Only analysis software that [provides data analysis within five minutes] will be able to become a part of the organizational nervous system.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.