July 20, 2021

Building your Analytics “Field of Dreams”

Gary Hayes

Gary Hayes

Chief Solutions Officer

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hears a voice in his cornfield saying, “If you build it, he will come.” The voice visits the struggling farmer several times until out of frustration Ray shouts, “Build what?”

Perhaps you share Ray’s emotions if your voices are saying, “If you build analytics, they will come.” You are probably ready to shout out, “Build what?”

In late 2020, Utegration surveyed utilities across all sectors, sizes and business structures. We asked about their expectations for spending trends in key areas of their organizations – analytics being one of those trends. Nearly 75% of the respondents indicated that “data science and analytics” spending was expected to increase. This was a noticeably significant increase compared to many other areas of technology. This is not surprising, yet despite all the desire for analytics among company leadership, the business case seems elusive. The voice keeps repeating, “If you build analytics, they will come,” and business and analytics leaders keep responding, “Build what?”

At Utegration, we strongly believe analytics is about building a “data-driven organization.” The challenge is to mature a legacy of reporting information into leveraging information whenever and wherever you can. Connecting the right data and information creates insights to improve operations, services, experiences, profitability and, most importantly, meet the demands of an industry in dynamic transformation. A recent McKinsey Global Survey* states it well:

High-performing organizations are much more likely to report having a data leader in the C-suite, making data and self-service tools accessible to frontline employees, and creating an organizational culture that supports and tolerates failure.

Our experience with utilities large and small tells us that analytics is not a “go-big-or-go-home” effort. That’s why we focus on working with our clients to “get out of the blocks and start the journey.” By getting out of the blocks, we can gain, build and sustain momentum for the distance required to build a data-driven organization powered by analytics. So how do we fire the gun and get started? Our approach is built on these five guiding principles:

  • Small, focused approach – create a small, nimble team with targeted skills.
  • Business-focused partnership – at least one of the team members is an active business team member. Also, business leadership support is a necessity.
  • Start with 3-5 questions you want to be able to answer – these are not boil-the-ocean questions – they must make business sense and be achievable.
  • Focus on value and opportunity – this drives the effort required for each of the question.
  • Deliver tangible outcomes to drive results – while this seems inherent to any activity, it essential to build confidence in achievement of results to support the momentum gain, build and sustain.

Watch out for the most critical impediment: Too many times the analytics effort becomes entangled in the data, technology, architecture and procedures. Analytics is a “scientific methodology.” We formulate a hypothesis; we gather relevant statistical data to test the hypothesis; and then appropriately scale. In other words, fail fast, learn and adjust for the next cycle. If you do not apply these principles, the effort and results will generally stall. Do not let this happen! Again, start small and get early wins so you can gain and sustain that all-important momentum.

Again, just a reminder...analytics is a “scientific approach.”   You are going to experience failures so do not get disappointed. Fail fast, learn, reformulate the hypothesis and drive results. Remember Ray Kinsella’s dilemma?   He could lose the farm to foreclosure or see his dream be achieved. Stay focused on the analytics and the maturity necessary to deliver results, and “they will come.”

Our key message is: Get out of the blocks and start analytics. We also want you to know that you are not alone. When the Utility Analytics Institute’s 2020 Annual Review asked members about their enterprise-wide data and analytics maturity, nearly 80% of respondents indicated they are either in the preliminary planning or development phases for an enterprise-wide data analytics strategy. You are not behind; you are ready to start!

Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) – despite all the personal, financial, and unusual circumstances – did build the baseball field in an Iowa cornfield. And just as Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) predicted, people did come. And so, it is time get started building your analytics “Field of Dreams” where people will come to transform, mature and lead you to become a data-driven organization.

Learn More: Catch our 7-Part Analytics Webinar Series

*Catch them if you can: How leaders in data and analytics have pulled ahead, McKinsey & Company, September, 2019