Bill Swanson and Predictive Analytics

I met Bill Swanson in October, 2009, when he gave a presentation entitled Predictive Analytics at Confab — the annual international conference for the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC).  For me, his was the most exciting presentation at the conference.  Why?  Because it was something totally new (for me) and was highly compelling.  What’s more, the conclusions of Predictive Analytics often go against “common sense” and the “obvious” — as Bill demonstrated in his presentation, using specialized audience polling devices.

Predictive Analytics is a new way of making strategic business decisions.  Bill is a Management Consultant who specializes in Business Strategy.  However, his niche is quite unique.  I have had the privilege of meeting many fine management consultants as a Chapter President in IMC (San Diego Chapter).  However, Bill is the only one I know who specializes in Predictive Analytics.  When I met Bill, he had recently completed an engagement with a midsize company that had been in business for many years, but wanted to improve its performance and productivity.  After some initial high-level resistance, the company accepted Bill’s analysis, and went on to have its best years ever (during the Great Recession).

Predictive Analytics is relatively new, but is poised to transform the way strategic business planning is done.  It promises to elevate decision-making beyond speculation and guesswork.  It can be applied to both internal and external factors, but is especially useful in processing crucial data from outside the organization.    It can start with surveys expressly designed to retrieve the most useful data, within what is practical and acceptable, but it also factors in organizational essentials.  Mathematical analysis and advanced statistics, supported by specialized software, yield quantitative results predicting the outcomes of hypothetical strategies, and substantiate which ones would yield the best return on investment and under what circumstances.  The results are often surprising, and may differ markedly from conclusions based on a more simplistic analysis.  Nevertheless these findings repeatedly prove to be accurate, and are now challenging the proverbial “gut instincts” cherished by many executives.  The new analytic methodologies are being used more and more by forward-thinking organizations.

Kennedy Information Inc., a watchdog for the management consulting industry, held a conference for the IMC in Chicago in May, 2010.  Tom Rodenhauser led the discussion.  He predicted that Analytics would change the face of strategy consulting, making some aspects of it a technology-empowered commodity.  At the May 2011 conference, Kennedy Information underscored its prediction, and indicated that Analytics was becoming more widely accepted, as business leaders in tough economic times were looking for more objective validation of big decisions.

Bill is both a valued colleague and a friend.  He presents to national and international management and strategy conferences several times a year.  I invite you to visit the excellent website for his consulting firm, CEO Decisions.

… so Bill concentrates on Strategy and Predictive Analytics, and my sphere is Software Technology and the Tech Advisor — but where do these two specialties meet?  There are a number of points of intersection.  The most obvious one involves the kinds of decisions faced by midsize and large organizations.  They are looking for how to deploy what may amount to many millions of dollars, and are seeking optimal results and strong ROIs.  Many such decisions will imply new, or changed, business processes, which in turn are likely to require new business/enterprise software systems, or big changes in existing ones.  The Tech Advisor is first and foremost about the planning stages of major systems.  The analytics drives the high level, strategic directions.  However, the Tech Advisor can flesh out the technical implications and alternatives relevant to the choices under consideration in the analytics.  This makes for a powerful give-and-take that brings the alternatives into laser focus — for better decisions and better technologies.

However, there are other key synergies between Predictive Analytics and Software Technology as well. Process automation, or workflow, is the source of organizational data which can feed into the analytics — if those data are properly organized and instrumented.  In addition, workflow data can be used for performance monitoring and fine tuning as a strategic initiative gets underway.  We will discuss these connections further in future blog posts.

Copyright © 2011 Patrick D. Russell

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