Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


E-mail Steve
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio

    free counters

    Twitter Feed

    Entries in data (132)


    Before You Know You Want One

    Did you catch this fantastic piece from the New York Times last week - 'How Companies Learn Your Secrets', an inside look at how the major retailer Target has combined it's extensive data collection efforts with insight into shopper's tendencies and habits in order to better tailor promotions and outreach efforts, and match them more accurately with with what products that shoppers are likely to want? The focus of the Times article was Target's work around using data and analytics to attempt to predict which shoppers might be pregnant, and with that knowledge, send them more focused ads and offers for things like prenatal vitamins and maternity clothing.

    It is an incredibly interesting piece, and I'd encourage everyone to read it, as it offers not just a peek behind the curtain at a multi-billion dollar merchandising machine, but also suggests other ways that the ability to capture, analyze, interpret, and make actionable copious amounts of data presents an area of opportunity for organizations and disciplines of all kinds. A quick read provides three important takeaways from the piece that are worth remembering:

    1. Timing is everything. From the Times

    Consumers going through major life events often don’t notice, or care, that their shopping habits have shifted, but retailers notice, and they care quite a bit. At those unique moments, Andreasen wrote, customers are “vulnerable to intervention by marketers.” In other words, a precisely timed advertisement, sent to a recent divorcee or new homebuyer, can change someone’s shopping patterns for years.

    2. If you're not thinking about how to manage and derive value out of all this data, you might be already a step behind your competition.

    Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a “predictive analytics” department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them. “But Target has always been one of the smartest at this,” says Eric Siegel, a consultant and the chairman of a conference called Predictive Analytics World. “We’re living through a golden age of behavioral research. It’s amazing how much we can figure out about how people think now.”

    3. But having all this data, and ability to extract meaning and opportunity from the data, doesn't absolve an organization of thinking hard about how it has collected the data, and the expectations and possible reactions of the consumers, (or candidates), about how the data is used.

    At which point someone asked an important question: How are women going to react when they figure out how much Target knows?

    “If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”

    Is there an equivalent or at least approximate set of takeaways for the HR and Talent professional?

    Definitely. Hitting a top performer with a high-profile and challenging assignment before they drop their two-weeks on your desk, understanding where the next set of company stars and leaders are likely to come from based on your assessment of the data on the current team, while making sure the data you're digging up on employee, candidates, and competitors doesn't make you too uncomfortable are all applicable takes from the Times story on Target.

    It's all Predictive Analytics these days. Maybe you need a refresher course.

    It's only the next big thing if you've never thought about it much. Then it might be the latest thing you just missed.


    Are Pictures Better than Words?

    Here's a question for a Friday: Have infographics already jumped the shark?

    If you spend even moderate time and energy reading online news, blogs, commentary, etc.; no doubts you've ran into your fair share of infographics in the last couple of years. And like any other art form/data presentation medium some of these infographics are awesome, and some are, well, kind of sad attempts and enlivening thin data sets that would be better communicated in a simple data table, or even a paragraph.

    And while infographics may now seem kind of familiar and even a little played out on the web, they have not really entered the day-to-day flow inside most organizations. I bet no one reading this post has ever responded to the boss' request for some HR or Financial data with an infographic, even if we think that when well executed, the infographic form might help us not only present the data, but tell the story as well.

    Might infographics begin to enter the world of work and become as typical as the Excel-based pie chart copied onto a PowerPoint slide?


    A new company called Visual.ly is building out a service that will allow people to create custom infographics using information from their own databases and APIs. The service will be automated, which means users will only need to indicate the kind of information they want to display visually to produce the infographic. You can see some samples of what these infographics look like here.

    Pretty neat right? And even the most jaded web natives among us would probably admit that even the simplest of these infographics are often an improvement in presentation and 'interestingness' than the spreadsheets and data tables we have all been working from for ages.

    Visual.ly has produced thousands of infographics to date, mostly for big media companies and online news services like the Wall Street Journal and The Economist; and has plans to go public with its service in December. Until then, you can experiment a bit with the self-creation process by creating a simple infographic of your own Twitter persona, (mine is below).

    What do you think - do you see a time where simple, created with a few points and clicks type infographic presentations of enterprise data will become as common place as the pie chart?

    Should enterprise systems build in this kind of capability, or is this better left for getting attention on the web?

    FYI - Here is my little infographic experiment:



     Have a great weekend!


    Need better information for business decisions? It might not be a technology problem

    Recently the MIT Sloan Management Review in partnership with the IBM Institute for Business Value released some preliminary results from a project called 'The New Intelligent Enterprise'. The MIT and IBM researchers conducted an inquiry into how organizations are using analytics for competitive business advantage. The study was comprised of a survey of more than 4,000 executives, managers and analysts from around the world and across a wide range of industries.

    Understanding how peers and competitors are leveraging analytics and new tools and technologies to increase competitiveness and make better business decisions has long been a concern of leaders across the organization, certainly in process-heavy aspects of the business like supply chain management, but increasingly in the Human Capital Management space as well. And while there are lots of tools and solutions that are on the market that can help organizations in these efforts to better capture and assess analytical data, some of the MIT/IBM study results suggest focusing on the technology alone may be a mistake.

    While the full report and analysis of the research findings are still to be released, several of the study's raw data points were shared by the researchers, and I think the most interesting results were the first and last chart from the piece on Sloan Review site:

    Figure 1 - Access to Data Needs Improvement

    Source - MIT/IBM

    Nice. Most of your key players, the ones you are counting on to make the right decisions, and make them quickly, and often under pressure probably don't have easy access to all the information they need. and almost 20% claim limited or no access to the data they need to success. Ouch. But you know that right? And that's why you are trolling the web, attending webinars, talking to consultants, and hitting the trade shows to find a software solution to address this problem. Sounds simple, get the right tools in, get them in the hands of the right people, and bam! - problem solved.

    Except it might not be that easy.

    Figure 2 - Technology is not the problem

    Source - MIT/IBM

    This chart is a little busy, but essentially says that when considering the deployment of better analytics solutions in the enterprise, the survey respondents felt organizational and company culture issues were perceived to be twice as hard to resolve as technology issues. Or perhaps said differently, finding and purchasing a technology solution might only 'solve' about a third of the overall problem.

    Perhaps not ground-breaking findings, but worth remembering no matter what workplace technology solutions we try to apply to help solve business problems. We can recognize we have a problem, buy a solution to address the problem, but until and only when the organization is committed to making the kinds of important changes that these projects often require, we will not realize the full potential of the technologies and more importantly, of our people.


    Disconnect (but rendered in nice colors)

    I sort of think the infographic craze is starting to get a bit played out and certainly a bit overused. But once in a while I catch an infographic, (or in this case two infographics), that whether it is the compelling design or simply the starkness of the data being described I think are worth sharing. 

    Both the below infographics are from the GOOD.is site, and when taken together, they paint a picture of a significant disconnect between the education and demonstrated achievement that today's employers demand, and the stark reality of trends in demographics and experiences in a changing and increasingly diverse population. Take a quick look at the two charts and think about the data for a minute.

    Chart 1 - Educating the Workforce of the Future (click image to see in full-size)

    Money point : We need to produce significantly more workers with either Bachelor's or at least Associate's or Trade School credentials to meet the expected demand for these skills.

    Source : GOOD.is

    Chart 2 - The Opportunity Gap (click image to see in full-size)

    Money point : The faster growing segments of our population also have the worst prospects to attain the advanced degrees and certifications that we know the workplace will increasingly demand.

    Source : GOOD.is

    There's an obvious disconnect here between what kinds of education and experiences the future worplace will require, and the ability of the complex combination of primary schools, colleges, trade schools, labor unions, communities, government, and really all of us to provide. It can be argued that on a micro-level that employers can and should relax some of these often artifical educational requirements, and that these kinds of barriers really don't do a great job at helping organizations obtain superior talent. I even took on the subject here once. 

    But even if some employers take steps to expand their thinking around degree requirements there is no doubt that overall, the gap or disconnect in education and skills will persist, and possibly drive even more work, opportunity, and income to other parts of the world that are adapting more rapidly to these changes that we are here in the US. 

    I certainly don't have a simple answer to address these kinds of systemic, structural issues, but I do think that talking about them more is a needed initial step.

    What do you think? What can we do to better prepare for these shifts?

    Hat tip to Bryon Abramowitz whose presentation on these topics at the Aquire Structure 2011 conference put the bug in my ear to start thinking about this topic.


    Brands, Red Gorillas, and Cold Rain

    The new website Brandtoys has introduced what they are claiming is the world's first visualization engine to assess and compare consumer sentiment and the online buzz of brands. The visualization takes the shape of a whimsical character whose physical attributes, (color, shape, size of ears, size of legs, and even surrounding climate), are determined by Brandtoys using source data from consumer surveys and from mining mentions of the brand on the social web.

    The idea being, for example, the more online chatter and buzz about a given brand, that brand's character will be portrayed with large ears; if the online sentiment surrounding a brand skews negative, (think BP), then it will be 'raining' on the brand's character.

    To get a better idea of how this visualization works, take a look at the character for BP, pretty much a globally maligned brand stemming from 2010's Gulf Oil Spill and BP's subsequent handling of the crisis:


    Sort of what you'd expect - BP is characterized as a petulant, angry figure with an aggressive stance, and in the end appears totally unsympathetic or approachable. Persistent (and deserved) negative sentiment about BP produces the rain clouds above our little friend's head.

    Big deal, you may think, who needs a funny character to know that most people don't think all that highly of BP at the moment. But where the Brandtoys approach to the presentation of consumer and online sentiment data is more compelling is in the comparison of competing or adjacent brands (and their derived characters). Then the differences seem to be a bit more subtle and interesting.

    Have a look at the comparison of three similar brands - Miller Lite, Budweiser, and Heineken:


    While the character manifestations of each character are broadly similar, there are a few noticeable and striking differences, the Miller Lite character has much larger ears, signifying a high level of chatter and conversation about the brand; the Budweiser character's eyes are shut, indicating relatively low scores for brand 'charisma'. For a branding or marketing professional, 'seeing' these difference portrayed in this manner is got to be far more resonant than scanning a column of figures on a spreadsheet.

    But beyond being a cool, quirky, and kind of fun site to play around on (I dare you to not spend 5 or 10 minutes creating your own characters), the Brandtoys team emphasizes that the characters are backed by solid and ample hard data and analysis. The larger point to me, and why I decided to write about this site today, is that it reinforces the potential that we have in presenting data in new and innovative ways, ways that can help tell a story, that can enlighten and engage an audience, and are simply a heck of a lot more interesting than another spreadsheet or Powerpoint presentation.

    We have lots and lots of data. You business leaders are likely overwhelmed with the endless barrage of messages they receive each day. 

    What can you do to make your message and the information you are trying to communicate stand out?

    Maybe presenting your analysis with the assistance of a goofy red gorilla is not such a bad idea after all.