Dos and Don’ts of Global Analytics Initiatives (Part 1 of 2)

Cost savings are only one of a host of benefits of moving operations offshore.

Globalization affects every business today—from production costs to pricing to new market opportunities. Companies understand that there may be significant labor cost savings in other locations around the world, but cost savings are often only the first benefit of offshoring operations.

Analytics and data management are crucial to the survival and success of a company in a global market. A recent Accenture/Wirthlin Worldwide survey found that nine out of 10 Fortune 1000 executives felt that strong analytical and business-intelligence capabilities will be required to achieve high performance in the future.

However, many companies are struggling to deliver on the promise of their BI initiatives without the help of a business intelligence service provider. With so much riding on getting the most value from your BI infrastructure, it is important to consider best practices when globalizing analytics initiatives. This two-part series examines the “dos” and “don’ts”—the best practices of successful global analytics and business intelligence initiatives. This column focuses on the “Dos.” The “Don’ts” will be examined next week.

#1: Decide if analytics is “core” or “context”

What is core to your business: massaging the data and developing analytical models or making business decisions based on the insight gained from analytics?

For most companies, analytics is a path to creating better products or presenting better marketing offers to customers that lead to increased purchases and higher revenues, but analytics itself is not at the core of what the company actually does.

The core of a major soft-drink bottler was the creation of a brand identity and fostering product loyalty by bringing to market products that customers seek out. Although the output that analytics produces helps drive the strategic and tactical decisions relating to products, price, promotion, and placement on store shelves, a bottling company is not actually in the business of analytics. It’s important to separate what is core to the business from what is context, so that appropriate resources—internal and external—can be applied to the overall operation to produce the best, most efficient results.

#2: Think about offshoring analytics strategically

Smart companies realize that the use of global resources goes well beyond labor arbitrage, and drives better use of internal resources while tapping into new talent pools and driving increased productivity. Are your senior statisticians and strategists spending most of their time on data cleansing, data integration, and other data-prep work, while your marketing and finance departments continue to pile on the information requests? Can you even source the right people to do advanced analytics work for your company?

With the explosion of analytics in the enterprise, an effective strategy for scaling analytics and data management as the business grows is crucial to success. From point-of-sale feeds and customer care data to telecom billing systems and homegrown legacy systems, the amount of data captured in today’s enterprise is overwhelming—yet that data holds the key to better decisions and increased company performance if it can be effectively used.

An effective approach is to redirect your domestic resources to internal client-facing roles, focused on understanding the needs of the business owner and consulting about how best to get meaningful insight from the data. The actual heavy lifting of data access, cleansing, analytic model development, and reporting can be moved to an offshore team dedicated to that purpose. This has the dual benefit of making analytics more accessible to the enterprise and greatly improving response time.

Technology and communications advancements have made the world a much smaller place. Because of this, populations around the globe are producing talented pools of educated candidates in all aspects of business, and mathematically-centric analytics is a domain that is booming—especially in areas such as India. To take advantage of top analytics talent around the globe, examine how your company can best utilize offshore locales over the long-term, creating sustainable competitive advantage, rather than attempting one-off projects.

A strategic approach to offshoring analytics will help allocate internal resources more effectively, as well as leverage internal analytics talents for the optimal benefit to the business. In addition, establishing a plan that maximizes offshore expertise and clearly aligns their contributions with the organization's goals will help ensure that the offshore team produces results that have impact.

#3: View your service provider as a partner, not a vendor

Selection of the right partner is critical. Simple vendor/customer relationships typically take the shape of batching project work and passing information and tasks back and forth. But the value derived from low-level interaction is sub-optimal. If you view the relationship as a partnership and work as an integrated team, you will get much more in terms of productivity and innovation.

Like any relationship, be sure you understand what you want from your partner. Focus on communicating effectively about what they need to get their job done. This level of open communication and expectation setting will ensure the productive longevity of the relationship. View your offshore analytics team as another company office and a true extension of your domestic operation. Consistent two-way communication is critical to any multi-location operation, and the same applies to an offshore services provider. In addition:

  • Establish operating guidelines for both domestic and global resources with defined success metrics
  • Establish clear lines of communication and escalation, but promote interaction at the individual team-member level
  • Include global resources on team e-mail and distribution lists
  • Conduct clear goal-setting conference calls and brainstorming sessions for each new analytics work effort
  • Establish two to three hours of workday overlap for collaborative discussions and client calls
  • Conduct weekly progress calls to provide iterative feedback
  • Hold monthly team meetings with domestic counterparts to promote a unified “One Team” approach
  • Communicate to your services partner the overall objectives of the work and potential impact
  • Encourage the open, critical questioning of goals, approach, and results; invite suggestions for more advanced or efficient approaches

Remember, their success is your success, so be sure to map to the same goals and keep your outsourcing partner closely informed. Creating an environment where internal and external teams work seamlessly and toward the same goals will pay off in better analytical insight that leads to better decisions.

#4: Make sure you get the right mix of talent

Leverage offshore partners that have extensive experience in data management, analytics, and the software packages that your domestic team relies on to execute your analytics initiatives. Not every country and region has the same level of qualified talent, so pick your team wisely. In addition, make sure you have input on your designated team, and ask the right questions: Is the team dedicated to my business? What is their skill set? Is it a resourceful team? What level of quality is being produced?

One of the most compelling benefits of creating a global analytics team is the availability of high-grade talent. Most evaluation criteria at the beginning of an engagement deal with price, skills, tools, and infrastructure. Although these are important, it is even more essential to select a partner based on fit with your company’s culture, people, process, and client roles. This will ensure a successful, sustained offshore engagement with the right service provider. When creating a global team, consider:

  • Build a global team that reflects your culture
  • Build teams for a specific purpose and be sure they are dedicated to your business
  • Give program ownership and accountability to your team
  • Encourage and enable career growth

#5: Communicate your plan

Goals, objectives, and their impact on your organization must be well articulated and clearly communicated within your company. Many times, outsourcing relationships fail because employees don’t understand the reasoning behind outsourcing and feel their livelihoods are at stake. Miscommunication could lead to your employees undermining the effort and the program failing. If they understand how the outsourcing program helps them and gives them opportunities to develop, they will embrace the initiative, improving both morale and the results you achieve.