Information systems are useless if they don’t deliver business value by driving better decision-making. There are countless articles out there on how to deliver value, and most of them have merit. But most of them also think inside the IT box. What if we think outside the box and look at processes that are outside—and even totally unrelated to IT—to learn lessons on how to build systems that deliver on their promise and facilitate better decision making?
 
I have several friends who are physicians. A couple of them work in the Emergency Department (ED) at a large urban hospital that often manages mass casualty incidents (MCI). These docs are usually right in the middle of those MCIs. I’m intensely curious about what they do, so I question them about their jobs.
 
You’d think that our jobs wouldn’t intersect, and in practice, they don’t. However, after many conversations, I’ve come to realize that a few of the techniques they use to manage an MCI can also be applied—with a little imagination—to building an analytics environment that will deliver on its promise to deliver value to the business and help you make better decisions.
 

Lessons from the ED applied to analytics

Tag your issues

When an MCI happens, the ED goes into crisis mode. Every resource is focused on saving patients' lives. Patients are triaged, and tagged, according to the severity of their injuries. Red tags indicate the most seriously injured patients—those near death. Orange tags indicate those who are critical but not near death. Yellow tags indicate injuries that are serious but not deadly unless left untreated.
 
You can do the same with issues that drive your analytics initiative. Those needs that must be immediately fulfilled—that are critical to the survival of the business—are red tag issues. Make sure the analytics project team addresses those first. They’ll make or break you. Orange tag issues are those that won’t kill the business in the near term, but they’re serious, and if they’re left unattended too long, profits will suffer, and the business will eventually fail. Yellow tag issues are those that affect the efficiency of the business and won’t necessarily kill it, but will siphon off profits and put you behind your competition.
 
Figuring out which problems fit which tags will help you design and implement your analytics initiative in the most efficient, effective way. It’ll allow you to see which issues are most critical to the business and solve those first--thus quickly delivering value. You can then address the others as you’re able to. This will ensure that your most crucial needs are met.

Flow is critical

In the ED, flow is everything. Patients must be treated quickly, and with the most effective resources. Bottlenecks usually occur due to a lack of resources—equipment, personnel, and time. There’s a similarity with IT projects. Issues must be addressed with the resources that can best solve the problem. And, as in the ED, bottlenecks also occur due a shortage of project resources, but they can also happen because of a lack of support from the business.
 
Either type of bottleneck can quickly hobble—or kill—a project that is vital to the business. It’s critical from day one to anticipate the resources you’ll need—both technical and human—to ensure that you’ll have them in place when you need them. Don’t just think of today. Think about what you’ll need as the business grows or changes, and plan for how those resources will be acquired and integrated into the analytics infrastructure in the future.

 
In the ED, patients must be treated quickly and effectively. IT projects are similar in that you often must act quickly, using the best resources available.
Lack of support from the business will kill your project. It’s that critical. To ensure business support, you’ll need project team members who can serve as liaisons to the business functions served by your project. These liaisons must be fluent in both technical and business speak. It's crucial to match business needs with technical capabilities. Bottom line: the business—and its needs—must drive the project.
 

Focus on the goal

The goal of the ED is to save lives. So, everyone in the ED is totally focused on that goal always. Your goal is to improve your company’s decision making using the best possible combination of tools and technologies. There are scores of analytics products and services on the market. Don’t get dazzled by all those geeky tools out there. You may or may not need them.
 
Instead, keep your eyes on your goal. Let that goal be the determinant of what you need—not the novelty of the technology that’s available. Sure, you’ll probably need some of that new technology—like predictive and prescriptive analytics tools on top of a data lake, but select your tools based on what you need, not how glitzy and new the technology is.
 
I know that it may seem like a stretch to compare a hospital ED with an IT project, but the similarities are there—although without the criticality of life or death. What’s your take? What else do you believe is critical to delivering value with analytics?
 
Anu Jain
Anu Jain, Vice President, Americas, is at the forefront of the analytics, machine learning, and workflow orchestration revolution. Anu is a leader in Teradata’s transformation from a perpetual license model to a service organization that will drive innovation in open source, business solutions adoption, analytics, and workflow. He has deep technology and domain-specific thought-leadership and expertise in ad tech, media, front-office effectiveness, digital media and analytics-powered industry solutions. His expertise in technology-driven business transformation includes big data, cognitive analytics, predictive analytics, data mining, data warehousing, and business intelligence. Before coming to Teradata, Anu worked for IBM and Deloitte Consulting.

Anu also frequently blogs on his personal site: https://thinking-analytics.com/
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