No matter how much big talk we hear about big data, it’s still challenging to get started. How do we target the kinds of insights that are going to make an impact, create momentum, and make our stakeholders happy they spent their time and money on the effort?
We have some suggestions to offer based on our many years of working with clients on business intelligence initiatives. Below are five types of analyses that helped generate breakthrough insights:
- Structured Look—This is the simplest form of analytics. Scattered or disorganized data hides its insights. Just getting everything in one place and in order creates a huge benefit. For example, NWN helped NASA pull together two project management systems, each of which had information about some aspects of a project. As a result, stakeholders could see the whole picture and make better decisions.Our consultants helped a well-known business school streamline its process for deciding which poorly-performing students would be allowed to remain in school and which would have to withdraw. The previous process involved painstaking analysis of student folders by small faculty teams. Just by organizing the data, we were able to reduce the faculty effort by 85 percent while they reached exactly the same conclusions.
- Probabilistic Matching Across Different Data Sources—Current technology allows us to connect the dots in a way that was not possible before. Probabilistic matching systems compare two records—say each has a name and address—and score how likely it is that the two refer to the same person. This can be a very effective way to work around typos and other data cleanliness issues. It can also handle more sophisticated issues such as foreign language nicknames and keeping track of individuals who change their names when they marry.NWN implemented probabilistic matching to help the state of Maryland identify individuals in prison so the state could suspend their Medicaid premiums. We were also able to help the Montgomery County and Baltimore City School Districts identify children on SNAP who should have been receiving free meals at school.
- Social Network Analysis—Social Network Analysis offers a fresh perspective because it makes the relationships between people (or entities) more visible. For example, one can see the types and intensity of connections among banks which indicates how trouble will spread if there’s a financial crisis. It can point out the people who are natural information hubs in an extended network, or the folks who have high levels of trust with others. This type of analytics can assist in change management, stakeholder analysis and more. For example, a mid-sized technology organization had added a telesales group to its team-selling approach. A social network analysis tracked the improvement in telesales and field sales collaboration over time and highlighted the relationships that needed a nudge. This type of analysis is particularly useful for managing post-merger integration.
- Changing the Frame—Most analyses of foster children look at how things are going at a point in time. One of our consultants took a longitudinal look at the foster children in Maine. They found that the kids who were most likely to get stuck in the system were 10- to 12-year old, early middle schoolers. Once they found this insight, they were able to recruit foster parents who were interested in that age group and improve results for the children. Longitudinal analyses have paid off similarly for K-12 and college student performance, managing professional sales teams, and human service delivery effectiveness are just a few.
- Information Design—Business Intelligence is not about information; it’s about insight. And sometimes, the only way to get the insight is to format the information so it jumps off the page. For example, one graduate business school leadership group had a vague sense that something was off, but they couldn’t put their fingers on the issue. I developed a graphic analysis of the changes in the core curriculum over the school’s history. It highlighted three issues that needed immediate attention, and these were obvious to everyone who looked at the chart. Within weeks, a team had been pulled together to drive the changes required. The legal dashboards that South Carolina Department of Social Services use have the same kind of impact. The executives in charge could have figured out which lawyers and judges were taking a long time to close cases, but it would have been tough. The dashboard shows the areas needing action at a glance.