This blog a companion to the Voice America Interview on “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” with James Brenza and Joe Hammond, founders of XDS on May 18, 2018, Machine Learning and Analytics: Case Study. The blog is a guest post provided by James Brenza. James is the coauthor of the Innovative Leaders Guide to Implementing Analytics Programs.
The future of many industries and businesses is increasingly about data and how analytic models can increase agility, accelerate decision velocity, and improve outcomes. Whether you are working in retail, manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, financial services or public sector, you are probably already feeling the pressure. As the clouds are forming on the horizon are you, your leadership team, and your organization embracing this change?
The machine learning and artificial intelligence tsunamis are not about to arrive; they have already arrived. The effort to integrate data and develop analytic models has been compressed from weeks to hours. The effort to deploy models has been compressed from hours to minutes. Some of the most advanced firms are revising models intraday. The future of your organization and personal leadership is being measured by your ability to embrace and adopt the agility created by these technologies.
An entrepreneur’s perspective
As entrepreneurs, we have embraced this new reality into the fabric of our organization. As a team, we have aligned ourselves on customer centricity and agility. When we refer to customer centricity, we mean understanding their primary challenges and their barriers to adopting productive solutions. We accomplished this by listing all of our constraints and our customers’ constraints. We then systematically design and deploy solutions that step over those barriers.
Our focus on agility certainly applies to technology. All of our development is done in weekly sprints and two month iterations. This allows us to make small course adjustments very frequently to ensure we are being responsive. We can also adjust our strategic plan when better information becomes available. Beyond technology, agility also applies to how we run our organization. All initiatives and campaigns are managed with agile principles. We continuously test outcomes and adjust our course as needed. While a strategic plan is necessary, adaptability is the new key to survival. Through that lens, a major portion of our strategy is to remain agile and responsive.
The impact on analytic products
Our products and services are based on analytics. Many organizations have had analytic initiatives trudging along for years without significant benefits. Other organizations have tried to start for months without any demonstrable progress. Analytic agility has become the key to our success (and probably your future). We designed our solution architecture to embrace agility and continuous change. While we work predominantly with structured data (i.e., organized tables that contain billions of rows), our analytic model capability is completely agile, responsive, and based on machine learning. We have adapted to slices of data that can arrive periodically. Our models must adapt to every revision of these datasets. Rather than fight that reality, we designed our products to embrace it and take full advantage of our ability to respond quickly.
Recent transaction outcomes are treated as just one more data source with every model execution. This allows us to capture the very best outcomes from prior model executions as well as input from business experts. Since our machine learning engine is highly automated, it can build multiple models concurrently, select the very best features, create hybrid models, and allow experts to compare the model outcomes. This has reduced weeks of work to just hours. By continuously incorporating recent outcomes, we have integrated continuous change and learning. The future of automated machine learning is not on the horizon – it’s here and it’s now.
How can a leader respond?
- Embrace change as your primary link to surviving the future. We need to look beyond just revising business plans annually or quarterly. We need to evolve plans and develop products that learn and adapt continuously.
2. List your barriers and have your team focus on removing them. If you put your barriers on a list in front of you (instead of letting them swirl in your head), you can attack them more vigorously. For every barrier you list, challenge yourself to list three creative solutions that let you step over that barrier.
3. If you and your team cannot overcome barriers, enlist external perspectives. The only shame is not enlisting assistance and allowing it to sink your ship in silence.
4. Create a culture that flourishes on innovation. We recommend creating a team that is dedicated to staying on your forefront, providing them with a collaborative environment, guiding them to the problem (without shackling their solutions), and injecting some impatience for solving problems. Hint: work in one-onth iterations to demonstrate small solutions quickly rather than allowing the problem to fester for multiple months.
5. Make sure your personal leadership inspires a commitment to change. This needs to include both your external voice, internal voice, and observable actions. Your team will know you are sincere when you are interested and “in the game” with them.
Do those items sound like leadership platitudes? Here is the translation for getting into the continuous change analytics game:
- Create a one-line statement that declares how you will use analytics to guide your day-to-day business.
- Identify the barriers to that statement and list experiments to overcome them.
- Partner with an expert when your team cannot create a breakthrough in one month.
- Collocate your business and technical vanguard team. Let them focus on creating a single, demonstrable solution in one month.
- Remain visible to the team, set guardrails, support them, but do not micromanage them. They need to own their outcomes and learn through that process.
Embracing this new pace of change created by these technologies is going to be difficult. Ignoring it seals the fate of your organization. While you may not know all of the answers, you can create a culture and organization that will adapt and flourish.
To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.
About James Brenza
James is an Information Technology and analytics leader with twenty years of diversified experience and success in delivering analytical, functionally rich, complex solutions. A hands-on leader that carefully balances strategic planning, business communications and technical delivery. Extensive experience with motivating mixed-shore teams to deliver high quality, flexible results.
The top 3 benefits James provides are strategically aligned solutions, cost savings and change leadership.
Specialties: Alignment of business and technology strategy, data analytics, business process improvement (Six Sigma and Lean), data management (data warehousing and business intelligence), program management, contract negotiations, traditional SDLC and Agile solution development.