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Customer Facing Analytics

How to jump start a customer-facing analytics program

In 2011, I developed new department at the worlds largest distributor of electronics components and computer products. The department sprung out from several years of internal hustle and evangelism and a significant amount of learning on what was required to get analytics into an organization. Gartner became my favorite brand and I soaked up as much information as I could on technology and processes required for a successful BI program.

I had a mandate – my department was not to be a “do me shop”. We couldn’t scale a customer facing analytics service with ad hoc requests. We did not have the analytical resources nor the model to recover costs associated with a department built on highly customized research and analysis. We had to automate. We had to deliver self service capabilities with limited budget and time. We had to create a service that was saleable and something the customers needed. We had to find our niche.

In thinking about how I did this, I have generated the following “how to” list to help readers get starting with a customer-facing analytics strategy. Here goes:

1) Clearly define your scope and objectives. This is the business planning phase. There are many ways to bring data to market. Thomas Redman has written a couple of great books on the topic and several research notes. Decide your direction at this step. Inventory current systems and departments that would aid on your journey. Get intimate with the data available to you. Document data that is hard to get to. Get a bead on the politics: who will be the detractors, who will help you drive your vision.

2) Get IT, Finance and Sales on your side. Believe it or not but IT has seen a lot of concepts and ideas surrounding technology and data. IT is also partly responsible for protecting data. Finance will house the most analytical thinkers and can help shape what information will be especially unique for customers. They also control the purse strings so having them on your side does not hurt. Sales is also essential. These folks will ultimately be the ones using and recommending your products so make sure they see the value and are willing to show customers.

3) Identify where a customer need is. What type of information do you want to provide to your customer and/or suppliers? For me, I had engaged with enough customers in the supply chain to know what was missing from our sales and account management process. Our customers did not have enough information on what was being sold, what their competitors were buying, what was selling and why.

4) Generate a list of monetization factors. Direct monetization would be a subscription service model for the program. Indirect monetization can be “stickier customer relationships”. Monetization is a key element. Think about pricing as well at this point.

5) Conduct a make vs. buy analysis. Some firms are more price sensitive than others. You can outsource a full capability based on the type of information you want to deliver but you may want to develop the in house expertise to do this. At the very least, the make vs buy analysis can help with your value proposition and pricing.

6) Build your data plan. You may need data outside the four walls. Use our 4p’s model to help you understand your data plan. Depending on the type of service you want to offer, you may need to partner with a data service provider to help you enrich your data for your audience.

7) Select a platform. Depending on how mature your information architecture is, you may need a platform that can quickly integrate multiple sources of information and that is highly customizable and easy to integrate into other applications. We selected Qlik for our program because of those features and because we could move data to the cloud much easier. We also wanted our users to be able to explore the inter relationships in their data. No other tool could do that.

8) Build a proof of concept. Let the fun begin. This is your blank canvas to create cool things the customer will respond to. Remember your customer is also the people in your organization who are writing checks for this. Make sure they see value. Get ideas in this phase for your product roadmap.

9) Draft a product roadmap. You need a product development mentality. After your concept phase and even before you may have some burning ideas you know the customer will want. One killer app for us was the “Core Compete Index”. This index gave customers and clear picture of how much spend potential existed within an end user account against how much competition was in the end user account. As the distributor we could see everyone who was selling into an end user account and what they were selling. We also brought in the IT spend estimates for those end users to give customer a better idea of where to focus. We had a dozen of these ideas and developed a roadmap for when we were going to make these features available in the platform and how much they would cost.

8) Build a deployment plan. This step entails how customers will access the apps, how data will be protected and provisioned, where the platform will sit and if it needs to be integrated into other workflows. At the time of our launch we had ideas of mashing our apps into the Oracle PRM system but that proved to be a Herculean effort that was super cost prohibitive. We ended up bootstrapping a hybrid cloud solution that worked great and was a fraction of the price of Oracle integration.
Words of wisdom:

Despite what vendors may tell you, there is no “one size fits all” platform when it comes to customer facing analytics. You will need a highly customizable and agile platform to tweak quickly and fail fast. I therefore recommend things that don’t require super specialized skills to build and roll out.
Don’t give up hope. Align to people in your company who share the passion for this type of idea. You will interface with haters so be prepared. If you can’t find people on the inside, get budget for people you can bring in from the outside.

Be prepared to spend money. This is an investment that will pay off but it will take time. You will need help both inside and outside the organization.

Evangelize to the highest ranks. I worked through three different division presidents and five different VPs. I evangelized to the point of annoyance at times it felt like. Passion and creativity gets people excited. Bring that.

I’d be happy to answer questions: