Data served direct-to-exec with Napkyn

We’ve heard about shortage of data-analysis help, and about senior execs who pooh-pooh the influence of analysis in decision-making, and about the “dead” self-service analysis. So when a vendor tells me about a direct-to-exec service, featuring a sort of concierge of analytics, I pull up a chair to listen.

Napkyn, five years old last month and major brands under its belt, assigns a senior analyst to lead a long-term relationship with one executive. Behind the analyst stands a 13-person team that collaborates on the exec’s behalf, putting forward experts as needed. One team member, for example, has 15 years’ experience in multi-variate testing. The CEO and founder, Jim Cain, comes with 15 years in marketing-data alignment.

Cain explains that it all began as a response to a gap he saw: execs’ inability to find answers in the data analysis tools they had, and their inability to hire people who could help. “It’s impossible,” he said, “to hire people in a discipline that’s no older than a first grader.”

He sketched his idea on a napkin and capitalized Napkyn with a $10,000 severance check, and then spent the first five years “aggressively bootstrapping.” It has served 40 major brands, he says, and now has 15 current clients.

The service runs on a flat fee with no overages — which made me wonder how they protect themselves from unreasonable demands? He says it took time to learn how. In the first few years, they worked with anyone who wanted the service, which apparently attracted some who just weren’t ready. “It’s hard to keep the interest of someone who wears too many hats,” he says. That sounds like some people I know, but that’s a long dark hallway I’ll look into another time.

Now Napkyn concentrates on “tier-one brands,” $10 million-plus organizations and only vice president and up. “They have the experience to know what they want and what to do with it.”

Napkyn also protects itself, he says, by “earning the right” to say no. “We earn the right with senior stakeholders. ‘You’ve asked for five things and we only have time for two.’” Deferring to later is usually a better option.

From the start, the lead analyst wants to know what the exec cares about most. The first question is, “What do you care about? What answers can’t you get and complain about to someone close to you?” From there, the Napkyn analyst plugs in with people below to find the data and the answers. He described the role as “half bartender and half mathematician.”

I suppose the lead analyst is something like what Wayne Eckerson, author of Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders, would call a “purple person.” This is the person in the middle, the non-specialist who’s neither business blue nor IT red and who empathizes with both sides.

I’ve always liked those roles, but not many others seem to. Napkyn analysts get more training in asking questions, Cain says, than in running analysis tools or in complex implementation.

At first, the reaction within the organization is a little bit “Sharks and Jets,” he says, referring to the “West Side Story” street-gang drama. But sooner or later people realize that Napkyn is an asset. Their presence tends to change ways people use information and agreeing what things mean. He says, “Getting organizations to align is surprisingly disruptive. We don’t do it with technology.”

“We’re kind of the KPMG of measurement,” says Cain. When the organization uses Napkyn, “everybody can assume that the information the exec gets is accurate and not biased.” Cain says it’s one of the benefits of a direct path to the top stakeholder mediated by senior analytics people.

Wait, does the analyst have a pistol under the napkin? Does he really exude such adult presence?

Pistol or not, it’s a service to watch.

The value of wasted PR

A press release crossed the big-data desk at Datadoodle headquarters late last month from a “leading provider” I had never heard of. I tried to find the news in it, but after the third try I wondered who could have imagined any news there at all.

The obvious question is how the client could be so stupid as to imagine any good came from this? Aside from reminding a few readers how to spell names, there’s probably no direct value.

The value is to the industry. Sure, we suffer trivial distraction, perhaps annoyance. But from blah blah blah comes fertility. It adds to the tech industry’s accumulated detritus, which sustains a nutritious substrate.

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Big data comes of age

It’s too easy these days to be tired of big data, with all the defining and redefining, marketing, and Hadooping. I can’t help but think to myself, “Just shut up and do it!” Of course, some organizations have gone and done it. Now a new report from TDWI Research describes the common stages they go through on the way to making big data a permanent part of their toolset.

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My latest in Information Management: “‘Sexy’” Data Science is a Team Sport”

The word got out last year: data scientist is the “sexiest job,” a late-2012 declaration by the renowned Tom Davenport of “Competing on Analytics” fame. Trouble is, “sexy” goes bad faster than fish.

“Data scientist,” still fresh, is my word of the year. In 2013, the data analysis industry discovered it, many loved or hated it, but most of all, we repeated it. Google Trends shows the mention of it soaring like the 1990s Dow Jones Industrial Average — and you know what happens next.

Alert as data scientists are to patterns, I wonder if many don’t shudder at the “sexy” label. If so, they might have had some comfort from a discussion around the big table at the Pacific Northwest BI Summit. There, calm conversation displaced the industry’s noise around the topic for nearly two hours last summer.

Read the rest of it here, on the Information Management site.

“Going forward” has been discontinued

The Datadoodle vice president of diction has issued an order.

Actually, he’s fed up. The other day in the break room, he was seen holding his head in his hands as if it were about to burst from the absorbed vacuity. It’s an occupational hazard: Every day, he absorbs words and expressions that have no other function than to impress or obfuscate. But we digress.

The order: He has prohibited use of “going forward,” effective now.

The expression “going forward” shall be discontinued immediately. It is meaningless. Urban Dictionary, an acknowledged authority, provides background.

Going forward is purported to mean, “In the future” or “somewhere down the road” when in fact it is an attempt to dodge the use of these words, which generally indicate “I don’t know”. [sic] A newer development in corporate doublespeak, in most companies it is grounds for dismissal to release a press release without mentioning something ‘going forward’. [sic] Going forward, you will likely see this turning up everywhere.

Examples: “Our company expects to make a profit going forward” and
“We don’t expect any layoffs going forward.”

The only exceptions shall be on mugs and shirts. Click here.