Mark McDonald

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Mark P. McDonald
GVP EXP
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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Analytics at Work Book Review an actionable and practical advice on working with information

by Mark P. McDonald  |  January 27, 2010  |  1 Comment

Analytics is a hot topic and executives looking to get value from business intelligence.  Analytics at Work by Tom Davenport, Jeanne Harris and Robert Morison book discusses how they do that.  I recommend this book as perhaps the book for people looking to establish and sustain an ability to use information in decision-making and process execution.

There is a sweet spot for business books between the illustration of a business idea and a discussion of its practical implementation.  Business books that are too high level offer great ideas that appear realistic only to angels.  Too low of a level and it’s a technical manual that makes the idea seem mundane.  I mention this because Analytics at Work rests firmly in the sweet spot between these extremes.

Davenport, Harris and Morison have taken ideas originally expressed in Competing on Analytics and taken them to the next level – reality.  If competing on analytics describes the characteristics of an ‘analytic competitor’ and their principles, then this book moves from principle to practice discussing issues from data management, through to changes in corporate structure and culture.  The book is comprehensive without being a compendium.  It is clearly written to provide a guide that helps you apply analytics to your situation without being a set of instructions that are applicable to few people.

Strengths:

  • The book has frequent and recognizable examples of executives and applications of analytics.  These examples illustrate the author’s points without appearing contrived.  The examples and case studies are a real strength particularly as they come from companies with different levels of analytic intensity.  This gives the reader the ability to see how analytics comes in many sizes and fits different situations.
  • A practical discussion of the issues related to analytics rather than a relentless boosting of the idea and principles.  The authors recognize that business intelligence has been around for a while, that people will adopt analytics at different levels of intensity and that makes the book real to executives and practitioners.
  • The book offers a comprehensive discussion of the strategies, organization structure and execution implications of analytics in the enterprise.  For a 214-page book, Analytics at Work covers a lot of ground without seeming rushed or superficial.
  • Graphical, the book makes effective use of frameworks and diagrams that bring the concepts into tighter focus and reality.  Executives can use these diagrams to understand and perhaps more importantly to share with others to explain how analytics apply to their business.

Challenges:

  • While the book discusses analytics at all levels, it tends to concentrate analytics activities into a specific group of subject matter experts.  While I agree that analytics requires specific skills, setting these ‘quants’ up as a special group may limit the spread of analytics across the enterprise.  This is a minor point that does not reduce the value of the book.

Overall Analytics at Work is a rare book that covers both the concept and the implementation of a business idea.  I recommend the book as it represents a well-balanced, action oriented approach that executives should read to raise the value of information in their enterprise.

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