Strategic Analytics: A book review by Bob Morris

Strategic Analytics: The Insights You Need from Harvard Business Review
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (2020)

What makes a company’s strategy or business model possible?

This is one of the first volumes in a new series published by Harvard Business Review Press. Each offers dozens of cutting-edge insights within a business field of greatest importance now when the global marketplace today is more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can recall. In this instance, the field is strategic analytics.

Each volume anthologizes HBR articles that are among the most relevant and of greatest value. There are thirfteen in this volume that focus on strategic analytics, following a superb Introduction by Thomas Davenport. In terms of value, if all thirteen were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be about $120. Amazon now sells a copy of this volume for only $16.19. That’s quite a bargain.

Davenport nails it: “The successful use of analytics requires not only high-quality data and powerful hardware and software, but also a culture that encourages data-driven decisions and a set of skills to make them. Relatively few organizations have all these capabilities at scale.”

In fact, consider the results of a recent survey of dozens of Fortune 1000 or industry-leading firms:

o 72% of large, sophisticated companies have not achieved data-driven cultures
o 69% reported that they have not created a data-driven organization
o 53% stated that they are not treating data as a business asset
o 52% admit that they are not competing on data and analytics

Looking for a competitive advantage?

Davenport: “Strategic analytics are those that make a company’s strategy or business model possible.” He discusses several key points in his overview (Pages xi-xvii), brilliantly creating a context — a frame of reference — for the thirteen articles that follow. More specifically, the articles focus on these basics:

o The five essential elements for succeeding with data
o Types of data and how best to capture them
o The right way to deploy predictive analytics
o What specifically great data analysts do
o What data analysis is and isn’t good for
o Prioritizing the data skills an organization needs
o Best practices that any organization can follow or at least learn from
o Cloud computing that can help smaller, newer firms to compete
o Data science and the art of persuasion
o Integrating behavioral data and predictive algorithms
o Maintaining trust when using people analytics
o What AI-driven decision making looks like
o Using data collection to serve the general public

It would be a fool’s errand to attempt to adopt and adapt all or even most of the material provided by the 21 contributors to this volume. Not all of the cutting-edge thinking about strategic analytics is directly relevant to the specific needs, interests, resources, and objectives of every organization.

Also keep in mind that data needs change over time as do the data themselves. The strongest organizations are driven by efforts to solve the right problems and answer the right questions. They succeed because their leaders have mastered the skills that strategic analytics requires.

One of the most important of these skills is using data to identify what are generally referred to as the “unknown unknowns”: what you think you know/understand but what in fact you don’t. Only then can you predict bthe future at least in terms of degree of probability, use advanced technologies, and meanwhile gain valuable insights about your organization.

For many C-level executives, Strategic Analytics: The Insights You Need from Harvard Business Review will be among the most valuable books they read to accelerate their personal growth and professional development, especially in a business world today that is more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can recall.

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