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A Chat with Plenary Speaker Jeanne Harris of Accenture

It's two weeks until the start of the JMP Discovery Summit. And whether you're attending, still hoping to attend or planning to follow the online coverage of this analytics conference, I've got a treat for you in this Q&A with Jeanne Harris of the Accenture Institute for High Performance and one of the plenary speakers for Discovery Summit. Her talk, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 16, at 9:45 a.m. ET, is titled "Analytics at Work: Secrets of Data-Charged Organizations."

I had the pleasure of meeting Jeanne during her visit to SAS recently. She was delightful: brilliant, thoughtful, funny and a wonderful storyteller. Jeanne was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about her work, her books and her upcoming speech.

Arati: What is a typical day for you at the Accenture Institute for High Performance?

Jeanne: The Institute for High Performance is Accenture’s global strategic think tank, with locations in the US, UK, China and India. The Institute develops and publishes practical insights into critical management issues and global economic trends. I am both an Executive Research Fellow at the Institute as well as a Senior Executive at Accenture. I am responsible for leading the Institute’s global research agenda in the areas of information, technology, and analytics. As a Senior Executive, I also spend time sharing my research with client executives and advising project teams who are building their organization’s analytical capabilities.

There really isn’t a "typical day," but I am often working in my home office outside of Chicago and collaborating with academics, research fellows and others on research projects. I try to write a bit every week, since our major deliverables are reports, articles and books. But then again, I travel quite a bit and may just as likely be offsite at a client or giving a speech.

Arati: What was your objective in writing Competing on Analytics with Tom Davenport?

Jeanne: I had a couple of personal objectives. The first was to share what we had learned about an important emerging business trend among high-performing companies. Secondly, I wanted to highlight examples of organizations that were forging a new and distinctive competitive advantage using analytics. And finally, I wanted to help bridge the gap between the language of business executives (who want to get better insights, make smarter decisions and get better results), analysts (who think about statistical techniques and tools) and IT managers (who speak in a completely different language – EDS, OLAP, Data Marts, etc.).

Arati: What’s a business problem that you’ve noticed that is crying out for analytics use?

Jeanne: One area where every company can benefit from a more analytical approach is pricing – simply because it has the greatest potential upside and because it is an area where decision making involves multiple functional areas and, as a result, is often poorly done.

Arati: What are you hoping that readers get from your new book, Analytics at Work?

Jeanne: Competing on Analytics was about the earliest and most aggressive adopters of analytics, but many other companies and organizations just wanted to know how analytical they were already -- and to become more so over time. They wanted frameworks, assessment tools, examples and further insights. So that’s what we set out to do with the new book. Analytics at Work provides a road map and tools for unleashing the potential buried in your company’s data. It shows how any organization can create an analytical capability that enables them to routinely make better decisions in every aspect of their business.

Arati: What kinds of things will you be sharing in your speech at Discovery Summit?

Jeanne: I will share some of the extensive research that indicates that organizations that run on analytics enjoy a significant competitive advantage. I will describe how market-leading firms are building their business strategies around their analytical capabilities — including organizations as diverse as Netflix, Harrah’s Entertainment, CEMEX and Procter & Gamble. Rather than “going with the gut” when pricing products, maintaining inventory, or hiring talent, managers in these firms use data, analysis, and systematic reasoning to make decisions that improve efficiency, risk-management and profits.

Drawing upon insights developed for the new book, Analytics at Work, I will also describe the elements that organizations need to assess and build their enterprisewide analytical capabilities. I will also include some diverse examples from organizations, including Best Buy, Royal Shakespeare Company, Progressive Insurance and the St. Louis Cardinals, to illuminate how any organization can take analytics out of the ivory tower and put analytics to work.

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