The First Step to Winning at Analytics: Know Your Starting Point

Loraine Lawson
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One warning I see repeated over and over is that analytics should move beyond simple queries to exploring what the data tells you.

I imagine that’s a hard shift to make, particularly for business users who, in general, remain more comfortable with Excel than data exploration. So how do you make that shift? At this year’s Data Strategy Symposium, Dr. Shawna Thayer explained that organizations must take one first step if they want to succeed with analytics: Start with the foundational analytics.

Now, I’m a journalist, not a data scientist, but I’ve been covering this beat for at least five years, and I’d never heard that exact term. There’s foundational data, which is the data used to define, support or create other, transactional or informational data: Think equipment, customers, employees, things like that.

It’s clear that that’s not what Thayer meant. So I dug and dug, trying to find a common definition. All of the references I found were from consulting firms specializing in health care or marketing. That makes sense, since Thayer has an extensive marketing background and is currently the senior director of Analytics Partners, which specializes in medical cost management and health care analytics.

Here’s what the references had in common: Foundational analytics is an assessment of where you are (i.e., your starting point), but coupled with any relevant market data and your business goals. So, it’s not just your data — remember, analytics strives to push beyond that — but also the context of that data: Where are we now? What’s working? What’s not? How does this compare to our competitors or the market?’s article, “Eight tips for data analytics success from Data Strategy Symposium,” offers vignettes from the event, including Thayer’s example detailing the foundational analytics process at one retail company:

1. Analytics Partners identified the business objective for the data, which was to improve marketing objectives.

2. The consultancy analyzed the existing media mix, quantifying what worked and what didn’t. It also identified opportunities in digital marketing channels.

3. It “evaluated the upcoming marketing plan to assess budget optimization using ROI figures as well as industry benchmarks on newer media options.”

These steps not only identified what steps the retailer could do, but gave the company a starting point for assessing improvements and other opportunities, she added.

Foundational benefits can drive the organization’s data strategy, Thayer explained, but can also help hesitant leaders find their footing with analytics.

“Before you know where you want to go with your data strategy, and what is the next great implementation you’re going to do, you’d better have an understanding of your business first,” she said. “Foundational analytics will help you drive that data strategy.”

You can learn more about Thayer’s thoughts on jumpstarting analytics in this pre-Symposium Q&A. As I mentioned, other companies have discussed this approach., another health care data company, actually outlines its foundational analytics assessment process online.

Accenture also briefly discusses a similar process, defining the analytics framework, in this paper on consumer intimacy in the post-reform health insurance marketplace.

Loraine Lawson is a veteran technology reporter and blogger. She currently writes the Integration blog for IT Business Edge, which covers all aspects of integration technology, including data governance and best practices. She has also covered IT/Business Alignment and IT Security for IT Business Edge. Before becoming a freelance writer, Lawson worked at TechRepublic as a site editor and writer, covering mobile, IT management, IT security and other technology trends. Previously, she was a webmaster at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and a newspaper journalist. Follow Lawson at Google+ and on Twitter.

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