10 tips for analytics success

Thornton May shares his research on the future of analytics

Thornton May, futurist and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy, looked over the crowd of attendees at the 2014 SAS® Global Forum. It was early – 8 a.m. – but May, the morning’s keynote speaker, got the forum off to a lively start. He warned attendees that their participation was mandatory. Through interactivity and engagement, he promised the crowd it would be time well spent, or as he colorfully put it: “a supernormal return on your temporal investment.”

May travels the world for 40 weeks out of 52 as a self-proclaimed “empirical futurist,” collecting data by listening to people. He collects data the hard way – one on one via personal interviews and getting “scratch-and-sniff close” to those he meets to understand how they think about, and prepare for, the future.

Positive change is possible. You are that positive change. The people in this room, together we can change the world. —Thornton May

Future-proofed rules

Through interactive exercises with the audience, May created some “local” data and compared that data with his global research to describe the future of analytics. He said there are 10 important things we all need to be successful:

  1. Cultivate cultural and intellectual awareness (zeitgeist). Every age, era and epoch has a feel to it: Change is happening, be aware of broader situation.
  2. Seize opportunities when you find them. Zeitgeist is knowable, manageable and “rideable”: This is our opportunity.
  3. Consider the top dog. What the boss wants matters: Express the analytic initiative in association to the needs, desires and values of your boss.
  4. Create alliances. You need allies: people who will travel along with you. “It takes a village to make analytics happen.”
  5. Embrace the defining technologies. Every age has one – the wheel, the steam engine, the airplane, the computer, the Internet.
  6. Know what’s next. The age we are entering has four defining technologies: social media, mobility, analytics/big data, and cloud.
  7. Follow the hero’s path. Every age has its heroes: May hypothesizes that the heroes of this age will be the people who can “monetize meaning” from big data and analytics.
  8. Choose enlightenment. Ignorance is no longer a state of nature. It’s a choice. Thanks to data and analytics, there’s nothing we cannot know.
  9. Assess your point in the curve. There are “categories of know”: ahead of the curve, on the curve, behind the curve, not even aware there is a curve.
  10. Establish your pace carefully. “Early Days” won’t last forever: May said we need to be aware of the pace of big data experimentation going on in the market and articulate a timeline to mastery and competence.

Playing the world-changing game

In closing, May cited a question asked to the Churchill Club, a Silicon Valley business and tech forum, “How long will it be before analytics becomes the basis of competition? It already has. This is the game being played. You are the players," he told the audience.

As if that wasn’t enough inspiration and validation for those in the room, he said, “Positive change is possible. You are that positive change. The people in this room. Together we can change the world.”


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