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Telecoms lead pack in use of BI tools, analytics

While telecommunications may be maturing in its use of analytics and BI tools, new research finds that more than half of its analytical process time is applied to data-related tasks.

When compared with other industries, telecommunications is exhibiting a higher level of maturity for analytics and business intelligence (BI), according to new research.

“Twenty-one percent of telecom organizations were deemed as innovative … [That’s] compared to other industries that had 15%,” said Mark Smith, CEO and chief research officer for the San Ramon, Calif.-based Ventana Research. “We do that by measuring responses across people, process, information and technology.”

Ventana’s report, published in December and based on surveys from about 100 telecommunications organizations, is a part of a benchmark series seeking to capture a more intimate understanding of how specific industries have embraced analytics and BI tools. While the telecommunications industry may be advancing more quickly than others by comparison, Smith’s research also revealed areas for improvement.

A stitch in time saves nine
The most notable area, Smith said, is recalibrating how time spent on the analytical process is divvied up. According to Ventana’s report, business analysts spend only 42% of their processing time on analytics-related tasks.

The other 58% is used for data-related tasks such as reviewing data for quality and consistency issues (28%), preparing data for analysis (22%) or waiting for data and information (8%), according to the research.

“Companies need to spend three-fourths or four-fifths of their time on analysis and not less than half because of data-related tasks,” Smith said.

Smith recommends automating things like data integration or data quality as much as possible, while also getting the IT department to play a stronger role in providing “a good data surface” or a cohesive data management process to support the analysts. IT and analysts also need to work together rather than feel pitted against each other. According to the research, only 15% of telecommunications organizations indicated IT and analysts are doing that.

“If the business analysts are spending 58% of their analytic process time on data-related tasks, that’s a real problem,” Smith said. And, he continued, that problem is not a one-way street: Executives need to be vocal in making sure IT and analysts understand each other’s responsibilities and the pressure their counterparts are under.

“It’s a little bit of cross-education and collaboration,” Smith said.

He also suggests organizations assemble the necessary library of analytics and metrics, deciding on a core set to become a consistent entity across the enterprise and provide what he refers to as “key indicators.” A little more generic sounding than the familiar term key performance indictors or KPIs, key indicators refers to measuring performance as well as process.

“It’s important to have metrics because that’s where you drive improvement,” he said.

And it’s what drives maturity: Smith said a good foundation of quality metrics is the key to enabling predictive analytics and producing reliable results.

The spreadsheet shuffle
Some of the data quality and consistency referenced by the research may stem from the continuing popularity of spreadsheets. While Smith’s research indicates that telecommunications organizations rank BI tools as the No. 1 technology for analytics, the margin of difference between analytics and spreadsheets was slim -- 57% compared with 55%.

“[Spreadsheets] play an important role for doing quick analysis around particular needs for individuals,” he said. “The problem is that they’ve been overused in trying to make them department-wide tools and they’re not designed for sharing.”

In fact, he said, spreadsheets fail to provide the two most important functionalities, as indicated by Ventana’s research: searching for specific answers and exploring the data underlying the analytics. Instead, while spreadsheets are good for ad hoc analysis and are quick to calculate and generate numbers, they fall down when the organization needs quick access to metrics or needs to understand the next steps in the process.

Because usability was deemed a top-level criteria for analytics and BI tools, Smith recommends businesses focus on the right tools for the right roles. Tools for those who perform the analytics should remain a priority, but businesses should also consider implementing tools that may be useful for other kinds of workers who benefit from the data and the analytics as well.

“[Spreadsheets will] never go away, but they need to be properly governed and regulated,” he said. Smith believes the popularity of spreadsheets thrives and will continue to do so because the tools are seen as free when purchasing a standard license for Microsoft Office. The danger in using spreadsheets as an enterprisewide tool should be considered as an unseen cost.

“But they’re not free to a company,” he said. “Once people start to create their own silos, views, competing metrics and definitions, the costs go up.”

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