The Olympic Flame En route - author unknown

Actioning Analytics: the last mile problem

Greg Nelson Our Thots

The Olympics and Analytics: Journeys to fame and fortune

Just as the ancient Greeks believed that fire was a divine element, data is the essential element – or lifeblood – of the modern enterprise. Recently, one of my colleagues Monica Horvath, Ph.D. likened the process of making analytics actionable to the Olympic Torch Relay.

Dancers dressed as priestesses hand over the Olympic flame during the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia

Dancers dressed as priestesses hand over the Olympic flame during the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia, Greece Thursday, April 21, 2016. Thanassis Stavrakis / AP

The Olympic Torch Relay starts several months before the opening ceremony and is carried by thousands of people across several continents. (In fact, for the Rio Olympic Games, there were about 12,000 torchbearers!) Similarly, there seem to be equivalent numbers of caretakers as data moves from sensors, through networks, influenced by business processes and used in decisions. I found it interesting that the torch is not actually passed from person to person but rather the flame is passed just as data is passed (integrated, transformed, summarized, and stored.)

While I may never tire of the analogy, it’s fun to see how far we can take this…..

Evidently, the flame has been transported via camel, boat, zipline, skis, dog sled. It has been underwater, in outer space, and to the summit of Mount Everest. Similarly, we carry data in databases, appliances, clouds, spreadsheets, warehouses, marts, huts, lakes and swamps.

Olympic flame at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, @ Olympiastadion

Olympic flame at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, @ Olympiastadion

With abundant fanfare, the flame races from Greece through refugee camps, valleys, bustling boulevards, lonely paths and bridges that stretch for miles. The anticipation of its arrival, some wondering whether the flame will go out, and others breathe faintly as the final torch-bearer navigates the steps to the Olympic cauldron to take its place as overseer of the games.

 

The Last Mile

The imagery of the flame is not lost on us as we watch the hurried efforts of torchbearers among us – the data stewards, modelers, data wranglers and evangelists among us – shepherd data towards the promise of change and impact.

The challenge, of course, is that unlike the Olympic Torch Relay, the handoffs are not as crisp nor as well choreographed. The destination, and its journey, not nearly as well mapped. Often data is collected for its potential and may never realize its suppositional future.

For analytics to have an impact, we must be purposeful and collectively decide its journey, not merely trust to hope for an arrival. Technology, like the torch, can only carry the flame. It is the people and process that ensures its advent.

In a number of recent conversations and media articles, we hear lament of this last mile challenge when talking about analytics technology – “why can’t we get people to change?” or “we built a machine learning model, but can’t get people to use it” and even, “we bought all of this technology, but the hard part is in making analytics actionable.”

What they are really saying is that in the last handoff, the data and the analytic flame is somehow snuffed out.  People, process, and culture unintentionally conspire so that the Olympic Flame isn’t seen by all in the stadium.  Executives rightly wonder ‘Where is the flame?  Why did we spend all of this money on analytics?”

Assisting with that last handoff of the flame is exactly what we do at ThotWave.  We support strategic advising, change management, and educational strategies that keep your analytics flame lit so that analytics is actionable.  And then the data flames can activate and transform your organization!

Want to hear more?  Check out our latest resource which identifies some of the challenges of making analytics actionable and some suggestions.  We hope you enjoy!

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