January 17, 2012

Historical notes on the departmental adoption of analytics

This post is part of a short series on the history of analytics, covering:

What set off my “history of analytics” posting kick is, simply put:

In particular, I would argue that the following analytic technologies started and prospered largely through departmental adoption:

If we leave out data management/system technologies* — e.g. data warehouse appliances or Hadoop — that’s pretty much everything that succeeded (and a couple that perhaps didn’t). I don’t know what to put on an “Enterprise-wide from the get-go” list except for a couple of duds like executive information systems and balanced scorecards.

*”System software” technologies such as DBMS often do eventually fall under the purview of central IT. But even for them there’s typically a multi-year period during which departments take the initiative in bringing them in.

Of course, this should surprise nobody; information technology is almost always adopted departmentally first, with the exceptions arising mainly in cases where departmental adoption makes no sense. Reasons include:

Departments most likely to be early adopters (relative to others) of analytic technology seem to be:

Three examples, for me, serve to bring all this home.

Business PC use famously started with individuals and departments just acquiring PCs, outside of the IT department’s control or even knowledge, way back in the day of the Apple II. Most commonly, the reason to get the PC was to run an electronic spreadsheet, generally VisiCalc.

10-15 years ago, when business intelligence vendors banged the drum for enterprise-wide BI/dashboard adoption, I’d ask them “So, do you have an enterprise-wide dashboard yourselves?” Invariably, they didn’t — but they did have departmental dashboards for sales and/or marketing. It became clear that this was a general pattern in BI adoption.

Multiple generations of technologies that one might think of as having to do with artificial intelligence – e.g. expert systems, predictive analytics* and text analytics — have wound up with applications being concentrated in the same few areas:

Those categories comprise 90%+ of the applications I can think of for the golly-gee-whiz technologies of their day. (You could add simulation to the list as well.) And outside of the publishing and criminal-catching sectors, those apps are pretty departmental in nature.

*I think predictive analytics has evolved into a blend of statistics and (other) machine learning, and machine learning can be viewed as a kind of AI.

So why do I think you should care about all this? Two reasons:

I hope you agree. :)


9 Responses to “Historical notes on the departmental adoption of analytics”

  1. Historical notes on analytics — terminology | Software Memories on January 17th, 2012 3:05 am

    […] Historical notes on analytics — departmental adoption […]

  2. Historical notes on analytics — pre-computer era | Software Memories on January 17th, 2012 3:07 am

    […] Historical notes on analytics — departmental adoption […]

  3. Dave on January 18th, 2012 11:00 am

    The old saying “ontogeny repeats philogeny” applies to BI too.

    But there’s a very simple reason why departments adopt BI tools before the enterprise does: departments run right become laboratories for efficiency and productive decision-making, with fewer entrenched interests and less localized persecution complexes.

    To become used by the enterprise, departmental results then have to pass muster in 2/3rds of the other departments or, in the case of a deadlock, at least 5 board members/justices must agree to the amendment.

  4. Departmental analytics — general observations : DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on January 23rd, 2012 9:29 am

    […] Department-level adoption of analytic technology isn’t the exception; it’s the norm. Reasons include: […]

  5. Integrating statistical analysis into business intelligence | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on July 31st, 2012 2:57 am

    […] *Or four decades, if you count predecessor technologies. […]

  6. John Gordon on October 26th, 2012 2:36 pm

    I’m relatively new to the analytics size of the industry, though i come from a decision support/expert system background. Getting this history means a lot of mysterious industry discussions are now understandable.

    It’s pure gold. Thanks!

  7. “Freeing business analysts from IT” | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on August 14th, 2014 7:22 am

    […] Many of the companies I talk with boast of freeing business analysts from reliance on IT. This, to put it mildly, is not a unique value proposition. As I wrote in 2012, when I went on a history of analytics posting kick, […]

  8. Analytics for lots and lots of business user | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on November 2nd, 2014 6:45 am

    […] Early adoption of analytic technology is often in line-of-business departments. […]

  9. The two sides of BI | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on October 27th, 2015 3:14 pm

    […] observed in January, 2012 that analytic technologies tend to be adopted departmentally. I reiterated that for the specific case of BI in my “Things I keep needing to say” […]

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