I just love the way things cycle. The old ideas get pulled out of the trash, dusted off a bit, and stood up with a new name and loud fanfare. Instead of getting sucked in by the new round of marketing, we should be thinking hard about what trashed this thing the first time around. If we can address that, maybe we can make a go of it this time.
Do you remember when every good company had an operations research team? Yes, this was 30 or 40 years ago. In today’s parlance, this was a team of data scientists. They were wonks charged with evaluating the organization’s operations in order to develop science-based insights and make improvements. These folks were facile with many of the big data and business analytics approaches we are gushing over today.
Well, where did these folks go? If they are so darn scarce, valuable, and important to our organizations today, how did we let them disappear from the landscape?
I believe they fell out of favor where organizations couldn’t turn their insights into value. And I maintain that this wasn’t the fault of the operations research professionals. As a group they may not be the best communicators in the world, but I lay this failure at the feet of the executive management. Today’s big question isn’t how to recruit the best data scientists. It is whether their management bosses have come along far enough to do their part and understand the value of big data and business analytics.
Remember that scene in “MoneyBall” where Billy Bean is sitting with all the good ol’ boy scouts and his pasty-looking, non-athletic numbers guy, and they’re discussing which kids to bring into the club? And the scouts want some five-tool player who looks good in the uniform? And the wonk wants a kid who knows how to draw a lot of pitches and get walked? Here’s the big shift: Bean sides with the wonk.
All we business folks have to get ourselves ready, not just to encounter, but to engineer these moments and all the effort that stands behind them. We need to put our political armor on and wade in to the fray. Imagine yourself telling your trusted, experienced, capable sales SVP that he needs to use the data scientist’s guidance in setting up sales territories and measuring performance. Picture the conversation where you inform your CFO that her financial controls are inadequate and she needs to work with an analytics expert to automate the quarterly closing stress test.
Today we have a new crop of big data and business analytics experts being wooed to business and government for their models and insights. Once again, they are armed with stunning intellectual capabilities and industrial-strength tools. They are probably even more well-trained than their operations research forbearers. Enterprises of all sorts and sizes are making substantial investments.
Executives, I’m talking to you. Let’s not find ourselves sitting here 30 years from now wondering why it all didn’t pay off.