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One of the key findings in our latest benchmark research into predictive analytics is that companies are incorporating predictive analytics into their operational systems more often than was the case three years ago. The research found that companies are less inclined to purchase stand-alone predictive analytics tools (29% vs 44% three years ago) and more inclined to purchase predictive analytics built into business intelligence systems (23% vs 20%), applications (12% vs 8%), databases (9% vs 7%) and middleware (9% vs 2%). This trend is not surprising since operationalizing predictive analytics – that is, building predictive analytics directly into business process workflows – improves companies’ ability to gain competitive advantage: those that deploy predictive analyticsvr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_12_frequency_of_updating_predictive_models within business processes are more likely to say they gain competitive advantage and improve revenue through predictive analytics than those that don’t.

In order to understand the shift that is underway, it is important to understand how predictive analytics has historically been executed within organizations. The marketing organization provides a useful example since it is the functional area where organizations most often deploy predictive analytics today. In a typical organization, those doing statistical analysis will export data from various sources into a flat file. (Often IT is responsible for pulling the data from the relational databases and passing it over to the statistician in a flat file format.) Data is cleansed, transformed, and merged so that the analytic data set is in a normalized format. It then is modeled with stand-alone tools and the model is applied to records to yield probability scores. In the case of a churn model, such a probability score represents how likely someone is to defect. For a marketing campaign, a probability score tells the marketer how likely someone is to respond to an offer. These scores are produced for marketers on a periodic basis – usually monthly. Marketers then work on the campaigns informed by these static models and scores until the cycle repeats itself.

The challenge presented by this traditional model is that a lot can happen in a month and the heavy reliance on process and people can hinder the organization’s ability to respond quickly to opportunities and threats. This is particularly true in fast-moving consumer categories such as telecommunications or retail. For instance, if a person visits the company’s cancelation policy web page the instant before he or she picks up the phone to cancel the contract, this customer’s churn score will change dramatically and the action that the call center agent should take will need to change as well. Perhaps, for example, that score change should mean that the person is now routed directly to an agent trained to deal with possible defections. But such operational integration requires that the analytic software be integrated with the call agent software and web tracking software in near-real time.

Similarly, the models themselves need to be constantly updated to deal with the fast pace of change. For instance, if a telecommunications carrier competitor offers a large rebate to customers to switch service providers, an organization’s churn model can be rendered out of date and should be updated. Our research shows that organizations that constantly update their models gain competitive advantage more often than those that only update them periodically (86% vs 60% average), more often show significant improvement in organizational activities and processes (73% vs 44%), and are more often very satisfied with their predictive analytics (57% vs 23%).

Building predictive analytics into business processes is more easily discussed than done; complex business and technical challenges must be addressed. The skills gap that I recently wrote about is a significant barrier to implementing predictive analytics. Making predictive analytics operational requires not only statistical and business skills but technical skills as well.   From a technical perspective, one of the biggest challenges for operationalizing predictive analytics is accessing and preparing data which I wrote about. Four out of ten companies say that this is the part of the predictive analytics process vr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_02_impact_of_doing_more_predictive_analyticswhere they spend the most time. Choosing the right software is another challenge that I wrote about. Making that choice includes identifying the specific integration points with business intelligence systems, applications, database systems, and middleware. These decisions will depend on how people use the various systems and what areas of the organization are looking to operationalize predictive analytics processes.

For those that are willing to take on the challenges of operationalizing predictive analytics the rewards can be significant, including significantly better competitive positioning and new revenue opportunities. Furthermore, once predictive analytics is initially deployed in the organization it snowballs, with more than nine in ten companies going on to increase their use of predictive analytics. Once companies reach that stage, one third of them (32%) say predictive analytics has had a transformational impact and another half (49%) say it provides a significant positive benefits.

Regards,

Ventana Research

Our benchmark research into predictive analytics shows that lack of resources, including budget and skills, is the number-one business barrier to the effective deployment and use of predictive analytics; awareness – that is, an understanding of how to apply predictive analytics to business problems – is second. In order to secure resources and address awareness problems a business case needs to be created and communicated clearly wherever appropriate across the organization. A business case presents the reasoning for initiating a project or task. A compelling business case communicates the nature of the proposed project and the arguments, both quantified and unquantifiable, for its deployment.

The first steps in creating a business case for predictive analytics are to understand the audience and to communicate with the experts who will be involved in leading the project. Predictive analytics can be transformational in nature and therefore the audience potentially is broad, including many disciplines within the organization. Understand who should be involved in business case creation a list that may include business users, analytics users and IT. Those most often primarily responsible for designing and deploying predictive analytics are data scientists (in 31% of organizations), the business intelligence and data warehouse team (27%), those working in general IT (16%) and line of business analysts (13%), so be sure to involve these groups. Understand the specific value and challenges for each of the constituencies so the business case can represent the interests of these key stakeholders. I discuss the aspects of the business where these groups will see predictive analytics most adding value here and here.

For the business case for a predictive analytics deployment to be persuasive, executives also must understand how specifically the deployment will impact their areas of responsibilityvr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_01_front_office_functions_use_predictive_anal.._ and what the return on investment will be. For these stakeholders, the argument should be multifaceted. At a high level, the business case should explain why predictive analytics is important and how it fits with and enhances the organization’s overall business plan. Industry benchmark research and relevant case studies can be used to paint a picture of what predictive analytics can do for marketing (48%), operations (44%) and IT (40%), the functions where predictive analytics is used most.

A business case should show how predictive analytics relates to other relevant innovation and analytic initiatives in the company. For instance, companies have been spending money on big data, cloud and visualization initiatives where software returns can be more difficult to quantify. Our research into big data analytics and data and analytics in the cloud show that the top benefit for these initiatives are communication and knowledge sharing. Fortunately, the business case for predictive analytics can cite the tangible business benefits our research identified, the most often identified of which are achieving competitive advantage (57%), creating new revenue opportunities (50%), and increasing profitability vr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_03_benefits_of_predictive_analytics(46%). But the business case can be made even stronger by noting that predictive analytics can have added value when it is used to leverage other current technology investments. For instance, our big data analytics research shows that the most valuable type of analytics to be applied to big data is predictive analytics.

To craft the specifics of the business case, concisely define the business issue that will be addressed. Assess the current environment and offer a gap analysis to show the difference between the current environment and the future environment). Offer a recommended solution, but also offer alternatives. Detail the specific value propositions associated with the change. Create a financial analysis summarizing costs and benefits. Support the analysis with a timeline including roles and responsibilities. Finally, detail the major risk factors and opportunity costs associated with the project.

For complex initiatives, break the overall project into a series of shorter projects. If the business case is for a project that will involve substantial work, consider providing separate timelines and deliverables for each phase. Doing so will keep stakeholders both informed and engaged during the time it takes to complete the full project. For large predictive analytics projects, it is important to break out the due-diligence phase and try not to make any hard commitments until that phase is completed. After all, it is difficult to establish defensible budgets and timelines until one knows the complete scope of the project.

Ensure that the project time line is realistic and addresses all the key components needed for a successful deployment.  In particular with predictive analytics projects, make certain that it reflects a thoughtful approach to data access, data quality and data preparation. We note that four in 10 organizations say vr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_08_time_spent_in_predictive_analytic_processthat the most time spent in the predictive analytics process is in data preparation and another 22 percent say that they spend the most time accessing data sources. If data issues have not been well thought through, it is next to impossible for the predictive analytics initiative to be successful. Read my recent piece on operationalizing predictive analytics to show how predictive analytics will align with specific business processes.

If you are proposing the implementation of new predictive analytics software, highlight the multiple areas of return beyond competitive advantage and revenue benefits. Specifically, new software can have a total lower cost of ownership and generate direct cost savings from improved operating efficiencies. A software deployment also can yield benefits related to people (productivity, insight, fewer errors), management (creativity, speed of response), process (shorter time on task or time to complete) and information (easier access, more timely, accurate and consistent). Create a comprehensive list of the major benefits the software will provide compared to the existing approach, quantifying the impact wherever possible. Detail all major costs of ownership whether the implementation is on-premises or cloud-based: these will include licensing, maintenance, implementation consulting, internal deployment resources, training, hardware and other infrastructure costs. In other words, think broadly about both the costs and the sources of return in building the case for new technology. Also, read my recent piece on procuring predictive analytics software.

Understanding the audience, painting the vision, crafting the specific case, outlining areas of return, specifying software, noting risk factors, and being as comprehensive as possible are all part of a successful business plan process. Sometimes, the initial phase is really just a pitch for project funding and there won’t be any dollar allocation until people are convinced that the program will get them what they need.  In such situations multiple documents may be required, including a short one- to two-page document that outlines vision and makes a high-level argument for action from the organizational stakeholders. Once a cross functional team and executive support is in place, a more formal assessment and design plan following the principles above will have to be built.

Predictive analytics offers significant returns for organizations willing pursue it, but establishing a solid business case is the first step for any organization.

Regards,

Ventana Research

To impact business success, Ventana Research recommends viewing predictive analytics as a business investment rather than an IT investment.  Our recent benchmark research into next-generation predictive analytics  reveals that since our previous research on the topic in 2012, funding has shifted from general business budgets (previously 44%) to line of business IT budgets (previously 19%). Now more than vr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_15_preferences_in_purchasing_predictive_analy.._  half of organizations fund such projects from business budgets: 29 percent from general business budgets and 27 percent from a line of business IT budget. This shift in buying reflects the mainstreaming of predictive analytics in organizations,  which I recently wrote about .

This shift in funding of initiatives coincides with a change in the preferred format for predictive analytics. The research reveals that 15 percent fewer organizations prefer to purchase predictive analytics as stand-alone technology today than did in the previous research (29% now vs. 44% then). Instead we find growing demand for predictive analytics tools that can be integrated with operational environments such as business intelligence or transaction applications. More than two in five (43%) organizations now prefer predictive analytics embedded in other technologies. This integration can help businesses respond faster to market opportunities and competitive threats without having to switch applications.

  vr_NG_Predictive_Analytics_14_considerations_in_evaluating_predictive_an.._ The features most often sought in predictive analytics products further confirm business interest. Usability (very important to 67%) and capability (59%) are the top buying criteria, followed by reliability (52%) and manageability (49%). This is consistent with the priorities of organizations three years ago with one important exception: Manageability was one of the two least important criteria then (33%) but today is nearly tied with reliability for third place. This change makes sense in light of a broader use of predictive analytics and the need to manage an increasing variety of models and input variables.

Further, as a business investment predictive analytics is most often used in front-office functions, but the research shows that IT and operations are closely associated with these functions. The top four areas of predictive analytics use are marketing (48%), operations (44%), IT (40%) and sales (38%). In the previous research operations ranked much lower on the list.

To select the most useful product, organizations must understand where IT and business buyers agree and disagree on what matters. The research shows that they agree closely on how to deploy the tools: Both expressed a greater preference to deploy on-premises (business 53%, IT 55%) but also agree in the number of those who prefer it on demand through cloud computing (business 22%, IT 23%). More than 90 percent on both sides said the organization plans to deploy more predictive analytics, and they also were in close agreement (business 32%, IT 33%) that doing so would have a transformational impact, enabling the organization to do things it couldn’t do before.

However, some distinctions are important to consider, especially when looking at the business case for predictive analytics. Business users more often focus on the benefit of achieving competitive advantage (60% vs. 50% of IT) and creating new revenue opportunities (55% vs. 41%), which are the two benefits most often cited overall. On the other hand, IT professionals more often focus on the benefits of in­creased upselling and cross-selling (53% vs. 32%), reduced risk (26% vs. 21%) and better compliance (26% vs. 19%); the last two reflect key responsibilities of the IT group.

Despite strong business involvement, when it comes to products, IT, technical and data experts are indispensable for the evaluation and use of predictive analytics. Data scientists or the head of data management are most often involved in recommending (52%) and evaluating (56%) predictive analytics technologies. Reflecting the need to deploy predictive analytics to business units, analysts and IT staff are the next-most influential roles for evaluating and recommending. This involvement of technically sophisticated individuals combined with the movement away from organizations buying stand-alone tools indicates an increasingly team-oriented approach.

Purchase of predictive analytics often requires approval from high up in the organization, which underscores the degree of enterprise-wide interest in this technology. The CEO or president is most likely to be involved in the final decision in small (87%) and midsize (76%) companies. In contrast, large companies rely most on IT management (40%), and very large companies rely most on the CIO or head of IT (60%). We again note the importance of IT in the predictive analytics decision-making process in larger organizations. In the previous research, in large companies IT management was involved in approval in 9 percent of them and the CIO was involved in only 40 percent.

As predictive analytics becomes more widely used, buyers should take a broad view of the design and deployment requirements of the organization and specific lines of business. They should consider which functional areas will use the tools and consider issues involving people, processes and information as well as technology when evaluating such systems. We urge business and IT buyers to work together during the buying process with the common goal of using predictive analytics to deliver value to the enterprise.

Regards,

Ventana Research

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