Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: 'Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results' by Thomas Davenport, Jeanne Harris, and Robert Morison

Those who have read Competing on Analytics may incorrectly assume that there is not much new to learn in this sequel to it. Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris with Robert Morison do indeed review and reaffirm the core principles of analytics but they offer more, much more in this recently published book. For example, they continue with the five-stage model for analytical maturity (“God has decreed that all maturity models have five stages”) but supplement it with an abundance of “pragmatic suggestions” with regard to the design and implementation process; they also offer a five-letter framework (DELTA) that has been adopted by numerous companies in recent years.

“The first part [of Analytics at Work] is also more oriented to current practice. Part two opens things up a bit to address some of the capabilities that analytically oriented organizations will need in the future. Some firms are actually address those capabilities today.”

DELTA is an acronym that helps to explain how to put analytics to work:

D for accessible, high-quality data
E for an enterprise orientation
L for analytical leadership
T for strategic targets
A for analysis

With regard to the five-stage model or process:

Stage 1: Analytically Impaired (“flying blind” because of the lack of one or more of the prerequisites for effective analytical work such as sufficient and reliable))

Stage 2: Localized Analytics (Although there are pockets of activity, they isolated, fragmented, disconnected, inconsistent, etc.)

Stage 3: Analytical Aspirations (Several managers recognize the need, begin to explore options, may attempt to collaborate, but progress may be slow because some critical DELTA factor has proven too difficult to implement)

Stage 4: Analytical Companies (Managers develop an enterprisewide perspective; also, they and their associates are eager to innovate and differentiate but the strategic focus is not as yet grounded in analytics)

Stage 5: Analytical Competitors (The company routinely uses analytics as a distinctive business capability, one that serves as the primary driver of performance and value throughout the enterprise)

Davenport, Harris, and Morison explain with meticulous care how to complete the process to reach and then remain at Stage 5. I especially appreciate the fact that they anchor their observations and recommendations within a real-world context, within a frame-of-reference, that is frequently provided by a mini-case study of an exemplary organization such as Olive Garden, an Italian restaurant chain owned by Daren Restaurants, that uses data on store operations to forecast almost every aspect of its restaurant operations. “Best Buy was able to determine through analysis of its Reward-Zone loyalty program member data that its best customers represented only 7 percent of total customers, but were responsible for 43 percent of its sales.”

I also appreciate the brilliant use of various Tables that organize, showcase, and emphasis key points. For example, Table 2-1 (Page 39) that introduces brief but remarkably specific explanations of how to move from Stage 1 to Stage 2, from Stage 2 to Stage 3, etc. Readers would be well-advised to juxtapose this material with material provided in the next chapter when the co-authors explain the kind of leadership that is needed for successful transitions from one stage to the next until the given organization has reached Stage 5. After identifying and discussing 12 behaviors that analytical leaders tend to demonstrate (including but not limited to those at the C-level), they focus on four exemplary change agents: Shannon Antorcha (Carnival Cruise Lines), Greg Poole (Talbots), Tom Anderson (independent management consultant), and finally, Jim and Chris McCann ( These mini-case studies are followed by an especially valuable explanation of what specifically must function throughout the five-stage process.

Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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