Today’s A:360 discusses why it is critical to boil analytics down to well-defined questions. A question is the fundamental building block of analytics. Well-defined questions can shape and simplify the delivery of analytics to an organization. For those business users who aren’t quite sure what data they are looking for, helping them shape a question can be an excellent starting point.

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Hey everyone. Welcome to today’s A:360. My name is Brewster Knowlton, and today we’re going to be talking about why success with analytics needs to start with a well-defined question.

I’ve seen a lot of instances where individuals go up to their analytics staff and they’ll ask some very general questions like, “I want to see more data” or “show me some analytics”. That’s like going up to someone and saying, “I want dinner”. Well, what do you want? There’s a lot of choices. The same thing goes for analytics. There has to be that specificity.

The best way to define that specificity for analytics and define what you’re really going for is to frame every analytics idea or every analytics objective in the form of a question.

Asking, what are you trying to accomplish?

If you can get the business users who are requesting information and analytics from you to ask a question, that helps change the context of conversation that you have with them. It’s not about simply producing a report, it becomes about helping them answer a question. This changes the parameters and context in which you gather information and present it. But, in order to do that, you must start with a question.

Often times, people will ask for data and/or reports just so they can try to figure out what they’re looking for. They have an idea, but they don’t quite know how to articulate what they are looking for in the form of a question. This is where a strong analytics team can really show its strength. It’s not so much in the technology, it’s in helping the business translate what they’re trying to figure out into a well-defined question, and then figuring out can we go about answering that question.

This may sound overly simplified, but this really is the fundamental starting point for analytics. There’s an article that I wrote that’s called, “When Life Gives You Data, Make Information”. It talks about the distinct difference between data and information. At its core, it really comes down to asking a question.

The difference between data and information is that data is just raw numbers. Information is the actionable intelligence built off of that underlying data. Let’s look at an example from business users in lending. suppose one of your business users comes to you and says that they need a report of all loan applications in a pending status. They’re really trying to ask a couple of things. For instance, they may be trying to figure out how to improve their close rate. Or, answer the question “why are so many loan applications falling off before being approved?”. They may be trying to figure out how to increase throughput or productivity. My point is, they haven’t really defined a question, and as a result, they’re grasping at straws. They’re looking at all of this data and trying to make sense of it. Helping these users to frame a question at the very beginning, not at the middle or the end of the analytics gathering process, can help them target exactly what they’re looking for and may allow you as the analytics individual within your organization to be able to better provide what they really need or what they’re really looking for.

Again, this seems oversimplified. It’s funny because I’m sitting here doing over a four-minute podcast about why it’s important to ask a question with analytics. But it really is something that falls by the wayside, especially as we get inundated with requests. People will just say, “I want data. I want data. I want data”. My suggestion is to take a momentary step back, and. as simple, insignificant and superficial as it may seem, just ask: “What question are you trying to answer?” That question alone will help spark a conversation that I can assure you will improve the process by which you can deliver analytics to your organization.

That’s it for today. Thanks again for listening to today’s A:360.

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