In his Point piece, author and fellow AllAnalytics.com blogger Tom Davenport lays out a thoughtful case for why the analytics function shouldn't reside solely in IT's purview. This argument signals a bit of a reversal on his part, and I do see the rationale behind his mind shift. However, I would argue for a different end result.
In a nutshell, Davenport doesn't object to basing the analytics workhorses -- the developers and maintainers of the analytics solutions -- in the IT department but posits that those folks who like to develop cutting-edge applications of analytics would find that environment too restrictive. Placing all of analytics under IT, which "by definition serves major, repeatable, standardized information needs for companies," would curtail the innovation necessary in the discipline today. He writes:
So go ahead and put standardized information solutions -- whether they involve reporting or predictive analytics -- in IT. But for the really creative uses of analytics, you need to find a new home. I am currently leaning toward the R&D organization.
Make no mistake, I like the idea of enabling the creative juices to flow around analytics. If it's not already, that'll likely prove an imperative over time as a company puts advanced analytics to use in establishing competitive advantage. In years to come, we'll no doubt even see new lines of business or standalone operations emerge out of a company's imaginative use of big-data analytics.
But the analytics function has lived quite well within many an IT department, and I see less of a reason than Davenport to change that now. Rather than divvying up the analytics ownership, I say to CIOs and other IT executives: "Start innovating." Truly, letting the analytics thought leadership slip out of IT and into an R&D group, as Davenport suggests, would be foolish for a CIO.
As Davenport himself points out, IT has been a particularly suitable home for the analytics function for a number of good reasons. I'd say the primary one is this: It's where the data lives.
The more seamless the relationship between analytics and IT, then the smoother the flow of data from the enterprise warehouse or other locale to the analytics engines.
Now's the time for IT to step up, not back. It's the time for IT leadership to establish the opportunity for those cutting-edge analytics thinkers to do their things within the department. That means giving these folks, many today labeled "data scientists," a long leash. Some ideas for how IT can hold on to all of analytics include:
- Hold regular brainstorming meetings to assure architectural decisions jibe with analytics requirements.
- Give advanced analysts ready access to the enterprise data warehouse and other internal datasets for their experimentation and exploration.
- Likewise, open the doors to allow them to bring in and play with data from public databases.
- Facilitate communication and collaboration with the business leaders and users.
In short, IT needs to be an enabler not an inhibitor. It must let analysts play, allowing them to be as innovative as they'd be able to be while operating under the auspices of the R&D unit, for example.
If IT is to remain relevant, it must adapt to the changing times. And analytics is what the times are about today. Yes, IT can remain the go-to developers and maintainers of the analytics. But IT should want to be more than that. IT should want all analytics capabilities -- not just the repeatable tasks that have long led to business intelligence reports -- to call the department home.
I'd say Davenport has thrown down the gauntlet to CIOs. I'd say they have good reason to pick it up and fight to the death. What's your opinion?