Analytics is like a dentist. It’s all in the inside.


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My cousin Chris is a dentist. We are the same age, and we lived together when we were both in graduate school at Northwestern University. Chris was in dental school, and I was earning my MBA. Chris once said to me that dentistry is all on the inside. Of course he meant his work is inside his patients’ mouths, and he did not mean that people are not responsible for their own dental hygiene. But his quote has always remained with me. In thinking about it, it can apply to analysts and analytics as well.

Big Data and analytics

There is much interest in Big Data. Just Google the phrase and you will see what I mean. Organizations are drowning in data but starving for information. The difference is that raw and transactional data is only a starting point. It is the “inside.” The problem and opportunity is to convert this treasure trove of data into information – to get it “outside” of the daunting and formidable black hole of raw data. That gets to the heart of analytics. It is a translation process to convert data into something that is meaningful for insights, better decisions, and ultimately actions that lead to organizational improvement.

An increasingly new term is the “data scientist.” Another one that I like is the “data investigator.” The high popularity of the American crime drama television series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, is indisputable. The ratings for the original Las Vegas show and its spin-offs are proof. In each episode criminal investigators rely on physical evidence to solve murders. Since these shows are so popular, why do we not see similar zeal by organizations to sift through the mountains of data available to them to solve problems and seek opportunities? Business intelligence (BI) and analytics software technology is quickly emerging

Data investigators have an analytical mindset

Some believe that BI and business analytics provide a game changing competitive edge. They realize that the commonly accepted competitive strategies heralded by the strategy guru and Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter are now vulnerable. Porter’s three main and generic strategies are low cost leadership, product or service differentiation, and segmented customer focus. But today, all three types of strategies are defenseless against competing and enterprising companies that can quickly lower their cost, imitate a supplier, or invade a supplier’s market space. Advocates of BI and analytics believe that the only lasting and sustainable competitive advantage comes from achieving competency by its employees with these investigative methodologies.

The investigators today in business and government are analysts of all types. And today everyone can add value to their organization with an analytical mindset. Experienced analysts rely on exploration. They require easy and flexible access to data and the ability to manipulate it. They want more than data mining. And they do not want the IT function to be an obstacle and prevent them accessing and manipulating the data.

BI and business analytics are becoming the forensic science, abbreviated as forensics, for organizational improvement. Forensics was originally the term for applying scientific methods to answer questions of interest to a legal system typically in relation to a crime or a civil action. But today forensics applies to solving an organization’s problems, exploring its opportunities, and balancing its risk appetite with its risk exposure.

If people love the CSI television series, they may likely love BI and analytics too! I know my cousin loves being a dentist. He has done it for almost 40 years. Given the flexible access to data, analysts and all managers and employees can also see what is in the “inside.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Gary Cokins, CPIM
Gary Cokins (Cornell University BS IE/OR, 1971; Northwestern University Kellogg MBA 1974) is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, and author in advanced cost management and enterprise performance and risk management (EPM/ERM) systems. He is the founder of Analytics-Based Performance Management LLC, an advisory firm located in Cary, North Carolina at Gary is the Executive in Residence of the Institute of Management Accountants (


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