How do you get buy-in for major analytics projects?

By Anthony Volpe, Chief Analytics Officer for Lenovo

In a multibillion dollar business like Lenovo, people at the top understand the benefits of analytics. They’re anxious to uncover the value of big data. But this can be both a help and a hindrance when it comes to getting buy-in for any major analytics project.

Cameron Jones
Anthony Volpe is Chief Corporate Analytics Officer for Lenovo.

On the plus side, everybody agrees that the goal is to transform Lenovo into a consummate customer-oriented business, and everyone agrees that analytics and big data are keys to getting there.

To move forward, you’re relying on people who are rightfully focused on executing immediate, effective initiatives. This helps you remain focused on solving specific business problems, and resist the temptation to solve everything. It also provides the necessary evidence of the value proposition being pursued. However, you also have to find time and resources to work on some foundational aspects of the overall strategy. So beyond leading projects, my team is responsible for developing an analytics vision based on our organizational structure and business imperatives – head in the clouds, feet on the ground.

Here’s the big dilemma: In any great company you have to compete for investment dollars. To get them, you need a clear and proven value proposition, so there’s a bit of a Catch-22. If we really want to build out, we need the proof; but to have the proof, we need to build out.

Corporate realities

We have a complex organization with two primary businesses: the Think brand and the Idea brand. Each has very different customers, supply chains and management structures.

Harnessing all the analytics expertise across the business units poses a few challenges. For example, in my short time at Lenovo I have uncovered several groups doing text mining. They’re all delivering some valuable results, but there are obvious costs involved in these groups ramping up in isolation, educating users, acquiring technologies and gaining partners. And the same can be said of myriad other analytics activities, such as forecasting.

Moreover, some of the best work is being done by what I would call analytics mavericks. They have contributed to corporate success by going outside the corporate status quo. And in the process, we have acquired a collage of different vendor and open-source technologies, each with its own pros and cons, rather than a consistent and comprehensive IT landscape. From an enterprise perspective, that’s inefficient and potentially risky. But how can you tell these brilliant analysts, “Whoa, rein it in. Great work, but now we need to impose some corporate governance.”

A term I like to use in this context is “curating assets.” Think of it as a kind of corporate iTunes®. You develop and catalog a set of approved resources and techniques that folks across the organization can contribute to and access. If you want to integrate some data, do a particular type of forecast, or work on a price optimization project, start with these technologies, routines or code. OK, so it’s not the perfect fit. But it’s a great starting point, one that will allow you to apply your own creativity and analytics acumen to get your business unit to the next level.

I’ve seen this approach work at other great companies, and it’s what I would like to replicate here.

The Innovation Theater

It’s no exaggeration to say that we’d like to develop more than a hundred robust and reusable analytics solutions next year, each one delivering the maximum benefit to the business.

The only way to do this is to quickly innovate and demonstrate results based on what’s already been done. Then, ramp up the new solutions ultrafast, which reduces costs and risk.

What’s needed is an Innovation Theater: a platform for all the excellent analytics professionals we have at Lenovo, together with our technology and academic partners. A space where we can sit down with a vice president and let him describe his business challenge. Then, we can start hypothesizing and testing those hypotheses against real data. I’m confident that within a few days, my analysts could have an initial prototype built, especially if we already have components in the corporate iTunes. Not a fully baked statistical model, but a mock-up of what it could look like, with some visualizations of how we could surface insights using the data that matters.

Visual analytics can play a big role in discovering how to get the right models, inclusive of the right variables, faster. We want to put stakeholders in a position to answer questions and make decisions, such as who the online customers are, what they respond to (hero banners, product features, the pricing offer?). That will put us on the path to that lofty vision of 100 percent customer-centricity.

Then the goal of a hundred or more projects in a year becomes achievable. Go ahead, try them out. This is innovation. If you can demonstrate the business value, you’ll have no trouble finding a C-level sponsor to invest in the production version. And you’ll have earned the right to do more.

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Fast facts about Lenovo

  • Lenovo is a US$34 billion Fortune Global 500® company.
  • It’s the world’s largest and fastest-growing PC vendor.
  • Lenovo has more than 33,000 employees in more than 60 countries.
  • The company has manufacturing facilities around the world, including Greensboro, NC; Monterrey, Mexico; and sites in India, China and Brazil.
  • Lenovo’s ThinkPad is the world’s best-known notepad PC, with 90 million sold over a 20-year period.
  • In addition to PCs, Lenovo creates a full range of personal technology, including smartphones, tablets and smart TVs.


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