How Are Business Analysts Like Teenagers on the Internet?

August 14, 2011
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Business analysts are in some ways similar to teenagers and college students in how they go about exploring to learn things. People like diversions – especially on the Internet – to the point that diversions are almost like an addiction. We know it might not be the best use of our precious time, but we love doing it – even if it is into the wee hours of the morning when we should be sleeping.

Let’s start by describing how youth might surf the Internet, and then let’s compare that to a business analyst’s practices.

Youth surfing the Internet

Business analysts are in some ways similar to teenagers and college students in how they go about exploring to learn things. People like diversions – especially on the Internet – to the point that diversions are almost like an addiction. We know it might not be the best use of our precious time, but we love doing it – even if it is into the wee hours of the morning when we should be sleeping.

Let’s start by describing how youth might surf the Internet, and then let’s compare that to a business analyst’s practices.

Youth surfing the Internet
How far off am I with this description of a younger person’s typical surfing session? They start on Facebook and see a post about a new song. They will Google the song’s title and find the band’s name. They will next go to Wikipedia and might be intrigued by one of the singers or musician in the band and check out their Twitter. This might lead them to go to a music streaming service and listen to a song or two. They might even go to a multimedia blogging site like Tumblr to look at photos of the band or the performer. They may deem some of the photos they find worthy to share with friends on Facebook. Seeing the band’s outfits might stimulate an impulse to go to a niche clothes fashion website. Or it may trigger an impulse to go to other niche websites they have recently discovered – like for pets or newspaper cartoons. Before logging off, they may finish their session with a peek at a few YouTube videos and then try to rest by listening to recently downloaded music from iTunes.

Youth could never have done this a few years ago. When I was a kid in the 1950s, I was limited to turning the nob on the television (before there were remotes to click on) without much television content to watch.

Business analysts exploring with technology
Experienced business analysts primarily seek two things: easy and flexible access to data and the ability to manipulate it. (Sadly, the information technology department tends to have a wall dividing IT and business users from the data. But that is another topic you can read in the hypertext in the prior sentence.) Here might be a business analyst’s session.

Management issues a directive to understand why profits did not grow last period as high as expected. An analyst accesses a data base that has calculated customer profitability and rank-ordered it from the most to least profitable customer. The analyst then applies a statistical segmentation tool that uses recursive partitioning to identify the most distinguishing differentiator between high and low profitable customers – including unprofitable ones. (This analyst is fortunate that his organization’s financial department applies activity-based costing principles to calculate the list. Without that, the analyst could not even get started.) After identifying the most differentiating factor (e.g., average amount of a sale), the analyst then forms a hypothesis. The hypothesis might be that that the number one factor is related to two or more customer variables. These might be their age group or location of their home residence. The analyst then matches the customers using a scatter diagram based on correlation analysis to prove if there is a relationship. Presuming there is a pattern, the analyst may take a deep drill-down to examine and compare a highly profitable customer data point with a low one to determine if the basis for the difference is product mix profit margins or else high maintenance issues with the low profit customer (e.g., changing schedules, buying specials not standards, returning goods, calling the help desk too often). The session can continue as the analyst learns more. The analyst might proceed to the second, third, or more differentiating factors.

The online session of the youth and the analyst are similar
Ultimately business analytics are about investigation, discovery, and insights to be gained. Analytics provides the opportunity to ask questions that lead to even better questions – and ultimately to answer the questions. Youth like surfing the Internet for social and personal enjoyment. Business analysts also seek enjoyment. It may not be for social reasons, however a case can be made that there is social enjoyment when an analyst gains insight to a problem that can be shared with co-workers and managers to make better decisions that benefits their organization.

Can analytics be addictive as the Internet appears to be for some youth? That would be a nice problem to have – especially in organizations where decisions are typically made on intuition, gut-feel, or office politics.