A Professional Criticism

January 29, 2010
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I’ve been back in Australia for several years now and after a period adjusting to local conditions I now feel that I have a valid perspective on the practise of analytics in Australia. Brace yourself as I do have some criticisms, but relax as well – it is not all bad news! Let’s start with the good news: Australia (and that includes the big band of Kiwi’s that work here) has some real analytic punch. There are local vendors that offer innovative and world-beating features in a wide range of fields and industries. Examples include…

I’ve been back in Australia for several years now and after a period adjusting to local conditions I now feel that I have a valid perspective on the practise of analytics in Australia. Brace yourself as I do have some criticisms, but relax as well – it is not all bad news!

Let’s start with the good news: Australia (and that includes the big band of Kiwi’s that work here) has some real analytic punch. There are local vendors that offer innovative and world-beating features in a wide range of fields and industries. Examples include:

  • Space-Time Research who have cornered the global market for analysis of public intelligence (data from National Statistics Offices like the Australian Bureau of Statistics) with their SuperSTAR suite of analytics and visualizations products.
  • Wotnews have a great semantic search and aggregation technology engine for understanding unstructured data and are now building innovative products such as:
    • We Are Hunted – tracking social media and actual music downloading activity to identify popular and emerging artists. Blows the old Top 40/Billboard Charts out of the water.
    • TeamStream – a team-based media monitoring service that supports monitoring, research and distribution within organisations.
  • Zap Technology – Business Intelligence packaged solutions that take the pain out of using Microsoft Dynamics and are selling well across Asia.

And not to forget New Zealand and Wherescape RED with their software for ultra-rapid data warehouse development. Users include Vodafone, the Australian Department of Defence and Westfields.

Likewise with local analytic talent. There are some very smart people I have come across. World-class analytic experts in their field. They have made my working life a joy and I consider myself lucky to be able to work with people of this calibre. I’m not going to mention any names as I don’t want more competition when I next hire them – they might want to start earning what they’re really worth!

Now the picture darkens as we move into the area of leadership – my backyard so to speak. To be blunt, it has been a little disappointing to see a vacuum of leadership in our field. There are lots of people who have Head of Business Intelligence or Analytics, Performance ManagerCustomer Insight Manager or the like on their business cards – but on the whole (myself included) I think that we are less successful than our EU and US peers at getting our organisations to embrace widespread use of analytics. This inevitably limits our impact (and usefulness) on the performance of our employers.

I’m not saying that our efforts are all abject failures. Many are, just like in the EU and US. But there are also examples of excellence, and I believe that I have delivered a couple of them myself.

If you were to look at the ratio of successes to failures, we would be generally in line with recent overseas experiences. That’s not what I’m getting at. I believe that it is our scale of ambition – or rather our lack of it – that is creating the vacuum. To put it another way: we are setting our goals too low.

Why is this? Is it that we lack imagination? Are too scared of the risk of failure? Maybe this is part of it. Australia is a big country physically but with only 20 million people living here, it contrastingly has a ‘big country town’ feel. A town where everyone knows everyone else. A spectacular failure here will be quickly heard of by most of your peers. In Australia the phrase ‘a career limiting move’ doesn’t just refer to a career in your current organisation.

Perhaps this is what still marks me as an outsider – when the chips are down and I know that I have reached too far – I still know that I can return to my old life in Europe and the States. So just in case, my address in France is Villa Parasol, Route d’Antibes, 06560 Valbonne!

Perhaps you disagree with my criticism? I’d be happy to be proven wrong! Can anyone talk about leadership successes? I’m ready to eat my hat if enough people respond that will.

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