First, take five cups of internal data. Then, sift with data governance and cleansing procedures. Fold in external data. Refrigerate overnight with batch updates. Finally, place in your preheated analytics engine and check periodically until your forecasts solidify.
If only it were that easy.
Serving a multi-course meal that fits everyone’s dietary needs, comes out at the right temperature, and looks beautiful has always felt unattainable for me—there are just too many factors in play to pull it off well.
Developing a data and analytics strategy can elicit a similar feeling. Like with cooking, most of us know some of what we want to see in the final product. Things like a single source of the truth, real-time updates, remarkable accuracy, and insights that drive actions. Sounds great, right? But it takes a plan to get there.
Despite the culinary challenges, we can still link crafting a plan for your data, analytics, and insights into an analogy about cooking.
Create a Solid Strategy and Roadmap
First, many organizations need to create a solid strategy and roadmap around data and analytics. It is critical to determine who owns this effort in your organization, identify the roles that support a data strategy, and ensure stakeholders communicate effectively throughout the organization. If you’ve seen a professional kitchen during dinner service, you understand how quickly things break down when communication and prep planning fail. Data is often the foundation of your future business plans—make sure it’s solid with an implementation plan.
Next, consider how your analytics strategy aligns with your overall business strategy and ensure the details have been thought through. That means understanding costs and benefits, how those may change over time, and so forth. Details should not be glossed over. Imagine hosting a dinner but failing to check if the menu is on a crash course with Aunt Betty’s seafood allergies—you’d never hear the end of it. You may have a great strategy on paper, but failing to think through these critical details upfront can lead to disaster. Many organizations stumble because there isn’t enough money to create data storage or understand the API strategy. Do your discovery up front and insist that data and analytics have a workstream in your initiatives.
Determine the Data Needed for Your Organization and How it Will be Stored
We have a plan for our meal, and we have thought through key details—now it’s time to shop. Going to the grocery store is a lot like understanding what data is needed for your organization. In most cases, it will be a combination of internal and external data. You don’t just buy every item from the grocery store—you shop with purpose, seeking out only critical ingredients. While your company could choose to collect vast amounts of data to store and process, some sources are much more impactful and should be prioritized. The key is understanding which data is the most important for driving results. Without careful upfront consideration, you will be overwhelmed with all the possible data you could have. It’s critical to carefully think through the sources of the data you will need.
Storage matters. That’s very apparent after grocery shopping when you’ve returned home to a new problem: there’s nowhere to put it all. Similarly, data storage is also a concern. To avoid trouble, you’ll need to consider where the data will be stored, how much growth your organization will have over time, and how long you’ll need to keep it all. Like our food with its expiration dates and freshness, we must decide how long to keep our data before it’s time to clean house.
Another essential factor is refreshing our data. Like the ingredients in your kitchen, each data type may have different update cadences to account for. For instance, some update nightly, some in real-time, and others multiple times daily. You can run into big problems with your reports by having your data updated at different times. It can create data lags and discrepancies that lead to unhappy customers.
Defining the Data and the Analytics
Watching cooking show judges admonish the contestants for calling something by the wrong name has always amused me. “That is not a lobster thermidor; it’s baked lobster tureen!” It may seem like splitting hairs, but in reality, defining your data and metrics and clearly communicating what they mean to all stakeholders is critical when aligning expectations.
Data and analytics are increasingly considered the secret sauce for determining how we can excel against our competition. The “secret” can come from various places, whether exceptional data sources, a superior ability to visualize data with business intelligence (BI) tools, or a fine-tuned approach to calculating elasticity. Likewise, truly remarkable chefs are not simply following a recipe or adhering solely to other’s advice. The best are experimenting, trying things out, being creative, and wowing their clients with something new.
The most critical part of this analogy is executing your plan. You need ingredients, prep time, a cohesive cooking team that has ironed out the details, and a plan for when things go in the oven. With building an analytics strategy, you determine your data elements, decide the amount of history needed, pull data in at the correct time, calculate your analytics, create insights, and lead your team to drive results. Data and analytics are only valuable if pulled together cohesively and meaningfully.
Streamline and Eliminate
Lastly, a word about insights that drive action. Your reports don’t need to be a Las Vegas buffet of every data point possible. Everyone should review their reports and BI tools and think through who needs to see them. Most companies are plagued with too many low-impact reports. Do yourself a favor—streamline and eliminate what you don’t need.
Flawlessly executing a multi-course dinner party or bringing to life an analytics strategy is no small feat. It requires careful planning and skillful execution to keep guests or stakeholders happy. But when done well, you can sit back and enjoy a nice glass of wine at the end—though perhaps not at work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CRAIG EISTER, Senior Vice President, Revenue Management Expert – Eister is a revenue management executive with 30 years of experience in the travel/hospitality industry, most recently as senior vice president, Global Revenue Management at InterContinental Hotels Group, where he led large global teams in the delivery of commercial goals for 5000+ hotels. Eister is known for his expertise in data, analytics, operations research, pricing, and revenue management. He was recognized by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Institute (HSMAI) as of the Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing in 2014. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Duke University in Math and Computer Science and a Master of Science Degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Operations Research. He is actively involved in non-profit boards and community service, especially working with LGBTQ groups and animal rescue.