When you have worked in the analytics industry for as long as I have (a wonderful, intense, frustrating and ultimately rewarding 25 years) then not only do you begin to see it as a form of vocation, but you also start to see patterns emerging out of the daily dynamics of the industry. With experience has come vantage, the chance to observe significant trends first-hand. Tracking their rise and fall as they traverse through the stages of popularity, plateaux and obsolescence.
One trend that has emerged, with ever-increasing consistency, is The Vendor Strategy. This is a homogenised approach to business information architecture and strategy that places “The Big Boys” at the very centre of the majority of analytics and IT toolboxes. In most cases the large vendor is the only tool in the toolbox – but more on that later. What do I mean by vendor? Think of the IBMs, Microsofts and Oracles of the world, software behemoths that have become so all-encompassing in terms of the number and variety of their offerings, that they in many cases all but supplant an organisation’s organic IT strategy – assumedly one that was conceived and designed to address that business’s specific challenges. More recently new players have entered the field. Where once we may have heard of “Our Oracle Strategy” we now may hear of “Our AWS” or “Google Cloud” strategy.
It goes without saying that these companies have taken enterprise software into an entirely new era, and I personally believe that because of the creativity of their products and their rigour in penetrating often tricky markets, the world of corporate management has forever been improved. However, what I have observed is a trend where management actively places these homogeneous solutions literally at the centre of their IT management strategies. Here’s how that works:
1. After a few years of good growth, management realises that over the years, they have brought a number of individual IT tools and packages on-board, but there is a growing lack of interconnectedness between them, meaning management does not feel they have a clear insight into the data generated by each tool.
2. They also realise that ongoing subscriptions and individual maintenance packages of each tool does not make sense from a costing point of view.
3. The ambition becomes to streamline all tools into one overarching system that has a finite and predictable cost, and which can kick out clear, all-encompassing analytics across all operational centres.
4. Vendors, on the other hand, have refined their marketing and sales messages brilliantly. They remain ready to leap into the void whenever an enterprise reaches this stage, with a “One Solution” product offering.
5. Inevitably one or other of the “Big Boy” vendors achieve the contract, and the entire business is upended for a few months while implementation, training, testing and fixing ensues.
6. Eventually the business’s IT management framework is consolidated under one umbrella – be it Oracle, Google Cloud, AWS or Microsoft.
Management now feel satisfied that they have jettisoned a cluttered, unwieldy IT environment and installed a leaner, cheaper and more encompassing system that can cover all processes and provide usable data in identical formats for swift analyses. And then reality bites. Vendors are no fools, and have certainly not attained all but market domination without a few tricks up their sleeves. One of these is a low entry price tag, but a high retention price tag. Getting in is cheap, staying in is expensive. And what option do you have but to stay in, unless you want to upend your entire business, once again, for an alternative vendor – as well as foot the “opt out” costs. Conversations with the vendor around upgrades, maintenance and lock in costs become increasingly fractious, and soon management feel frustrated and trapped.
Let’s dial back the drama a bit and look at this clinically. Businesses adopt a vendor strategy in order manage costs, and gain better, cleaner data about their customers and their operations. They need business advantage, and they think an all-encompassing one vendor strategy will do that. The reality is this: software tools are incorporated into a business organically, they arise from a true business need, not a need driven by oversight or control. An individual business manager is concerned about the swiftness or rigour of one or other process in their operations, and approaches the markets, often via friends or a Google search. Keep in mind their objectives: swift delivery, bang on strategy, easy implementation and hard business results. Through a number of useful interactions and conversations with the sales and technical teams of the software supplier, the software is installed – often customised to specific outcomes – and that operational unit, be it production, R&D, marketing or finance is much better for it.
Sometimes in this scenario, a manager’s plans may be stymied by their IT department, which does not approve the purchase, due to a conflict in budget or strategy, oftentimes simple willingness. What happens then is that managers, determined to achieve necessary business outcomes, regardless of IT’s stance, opt for SAAS (Software as a Service) products. These options do not require IT’s approval, as they don’t entail any actual installations on the network. What happens thereafter is an outcome I refer to as “data orphanages”. Because the manager has been compelled to “go around the system” to achieve a necessary business outcome for his department, data is produced outside of the business’s analytical system, and managers are dealing with individual nodes of data manually through excel. This is a place I call Excel Hell. Despite this hellish place, managers are forced to deal with these data orphans, as they contain the very kernel of the actual data they require. In fact I’ve often come across business nodes that need to maintain and analyse the data in this way, long after the initial application has run its course, or in fact the personnel that initially implemented it have left the organisation.
This is not a good picture. And you can see why management is so often tempted by the serenity of a single vendor strategy – a simple, flat expanse of IT predictability, devoid of interdepartmental fractiousness, and clean accessible, data.
My point however is simply this: what does the single vendor strategy actually cost in business outcomes? Did the manager who needed to “go off piste” and buy in specific software not have the very best reason to buy it, actual business need? Should his/her desire to achieve better business outcomes not trump IT or management’s desire for a clean, uncluttered IT environment?
1. Analytics strategies, and technology strategies in general, must be about business outcomes
2. It is the business user that drives those outcomes, so they should have a hand in making those IT decisions
3. Technology must enable, not hinder, business outcomes
4. Ultimately it’s about the data – the data will far outlast the applications that created it and the people who originally selected and implemented it
And so I have developed a strategy I call Andalytics. An approach that values business outcomes, over IT efficiencies, and which acknowledges that the organic, seemingly unstructured IT landscape where multiple product and software services are at play, has a hard purpose and ultimately yields better, sharper business results.
To scope Andalytics out briefly:
- PRICING: While there is no strict guidance on what tools, platforms or infrastructure are to be used, there is clear and transparent pricing so that managers can select cost effectively.
- PEOPLE: Behind the need for data, is a team’s need for that data. It is the people in that team who need to receive high-grade training, familiarisation, coaching and mentoring with regard to the concepts and methodologies of data analysis and management.
- FUNCTION: There are many occasions when rudimentary data analytics are appropriate. Teams must be given the opportunity to gain experience of the data, and how best to handle it. Built into the strategy should be an acknowledgement of these “simple tools” and they should be assessed against business outcomes ongoing. Not everything needs to be a gold-plated analytics tool.
- SUPPORT: Instead of designing product support for simplicity, IT providers must embrace the complexity (yet also benefits) of a multi-platform, multi-infrastructure and multi-application IT environment.
As I said in the beginning of this blog, for better or worse, I’ve been around the analytics terrain long enough to see big trends come and go. Not only have I observed the significant pitfalls in homogenous vendor solutions, but I’m also starting to see cracks in the Big Data trend. When we look at the landscape we see that technology, analytics, and infrastructure ecosystems are moving very fast. Big Data is being removed from hype curves to be replaced by Real-Time Solutions – a more nimble, dynamic approach to decision-making enabled by better technology. Lumbering decision-making structures are being replaced by decentralised authority that sees operational nodes making independent decisions, while existing within an interdependent IT architecture.
Growth entails change, and the flexibility and ability to respond to change is an essential part of the well-run organisations musculature. When you first started your business, the IT choices you made no longer reflect the challenges you face today. Changing markets demand new business models, and new business models are driven by new people, new talent and new ideas. Integrating best-of-breed thought leadership means getting new capability on board fast. Your IT and analytics infrastructure cannot, indeed must not, hamper that required new energy. This is what the “management pundits” call change management, and while I’m no management guru, I’ve seen my fair share of disastrous change management practices, where managers struggle to fit young thinkers into hard-coded, technological regimes.
Ultimately, this change program is about enabling and managing the innovators in your business; they are a significant source of competitive differentiation. This means accepting and observing when they seem to “short-circuit” the IT procurement process, and instead of the one-size fits all vendor strategy, embrace the opportunity to go where those innovators are taking you. Acceptance and observation is however insufficient if you want the innovation to permeate your business. You now have the chance to really move the dial of your business, making the innovation a part of the operating DNA. To do this requires maturing the innovation, through technology, to become an organisation-wide reality. The original innovator may complain, “Why bother? I can do all of this on my desktop, no problem.” However, the innovation cannot be allowed to reside within one mind, or PC, and must scale for sustainable advantage.
The single vendor strategy is not enhancing your business’s ability to compete. There are solutions that will not only enable operational nodes to acquire the very best IT for their specific needs, but are also adaptable, fluid, swift and not averse to change or innovation; there are ways of managing a multi-platform ecosystem that does not necessarily surrender efficiency or control. Let’s explore the Andalytics Solution.
Andalytics is Multi-ecosystem
A client of ours recently embraced a blend of public cloud, private cloud, IAAS, SAAS and PAAS alongside their own internal infrastructure, to create a multi-layered, yet highly effective data capture and analysis strategy. They have deployed IoT devices on a private network at the edge of the system, and use 3G to transmit data to Google Cloud Platform. We then leverage Google Big Query for post processing, and import the results into the company’s Oracle data warehouse, which sits on their premises.
Andalytics is Multi-technology
This strategy means more, not less, access to various technologies. You will expose your teams to modern AI, ML, data discovery, Iot, IIoT, blockchain, quantum computing and real-time streaming and more. They will be immersed in a wide range of options with which to experiment; each team has the freedom to opt for what truly works, from a business outcomes perspective. Counterintuitively you may even find, having tried out a number of solutions, teams decide on something simpler and more direct, something that adapts more readily to their work flow, function and ambition.
Andalytics is Multi-disciplinary
This strategy is designed to address every operational node: from customers, suppliers and IT to the C-Suite, finance and admin. The explicit intention is to decentralise the analytics capabilities – giving the authority and control to individual teams, who have the most valuable insight into how the data must perform, and what is required from it. Centrality is only housed by a single team, or solutions partner, responsible for measuring analytics maturity. Ultimately, every person plays a role in the data analytics eco-system, for the simple reason that every person in your organisation either produces or consumes (most times both) the data as a core function of the job.
Think of data as the connective tissue that bonds the disparate parts of your business. As with physiological connective tissue, it becomes counter-productive when that connecting fibre is weak, inflexible or resistant to change. Tooling a data and analytics system to encompass the variety of needs within a business is necessarily an open and collaborative process, one which allows for every desktop experiment or maverick idea, and which can capture individual innovations swiftly, expand them to scale and leverage the benefits for better business outcomes.
When you realise that your data ecosystem is the connective tissue of your organisation you understand that making it resilient and adaptable gives your organisation the flexibility and agility it needs to outcompete. And you must be able to outcompete because your customers are demanding it and your competitors are disrupting your business every day. Your best investment to be able to out-compete is to equip your business with the flexible and open tools and techniques that startups are using – we can help you implement that flexibility robustly and securely.