Book Review: Secrets of Analytical Leaders

As an avid follower of Wayne Eckerson’s writings, I was pleased to have an opportunity to read and review his latest book. His earlier work helped me to understand dashboards and scorecards. The new work which provides insights from seven analytics leaders is a winner.

The book is divided into four parts. First the experts interviewed for the book are introduced:

  • Eric Colson – Chief Analytics Officer for a start up with Yahoo and Netflix experiences
  • Dan Engle – VP of Vehicle Valuation for Kelly Blue Book
  • Tim Leonard – CTO of US Express
  • Amy O’Connor – Senior Director Big Data for Nokia
  • Ken Rudin – Head of Analytics at Facebook with Zynga experience
  • Darren Taylor – President and COO for Cobalt Talon, a company of BlueKC
  • Kurt Thearling – Director of IT and Applied Analytics for Alex Partners, LLP.
Second, analytics and its benefits are defined. Eckerson provides a great overview, expanding on his book Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (Wiley 2010) as well as referencing the works of Tom Davenport – Competing on Analytics (Harvard Press 2007) and Analytics at Work (Harvard Press 2010). Understanding analytics and its benefits are critical to developing an analytical program and selling it to executive sponsors. The experts each explain how analytics has proven itself and provided strategic benefits at firms including BlueKC, Zynga and Nokia.

Third, the people side of analytics is presented. The author explains how to build a business case to gain executive support; build momentum; manage analysts; organize the analytical function and deliver results through analytical models. Eckerson provides an overview using his insights and then follows up with interviews with industry gurus. These experts remind me that it is important to partner with business and to continue to demonstrate quantitatively measured value. Fast delivery of results is also important. Here the experts emphasized the use of agile approaches and the management of analysts and the analytical models that they produce.

Fourth, the technical side of analytics is explained. Analytical programs require a sound technical architecture and a supply of relevant, high quality data. Kurt Thearling explains the concept of Data Curators who sift through data to find the most relevant data for analysis. Use of relevant data is one of the secrets of Capital One, a bank that has built great success through analytics. The analytic can be built through both top down and bottom up approaches. I was particular impressed with Ken Rudin’s description of how Zynga captures game player data and stores it in warehouse in real-time.

I rate this book highly, particularly the interviews and comments of the analytical leaders. The industry expert quotes are much like sitting in on a panel of analytics experts at a national data warehousing conference – without the travel expense. Secrets of Analytical Leaders by Wayne Eckerson deserves a place on your analytics reading list.

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