Quantifying Analytics ROI

Japanese House Crest “Go-Shichi no Kiri”
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I had a brief twitter exchange with Jim Davis, Chief Marketing Officer, SAS Institute on Return of Investment on Business Analytics Projects for customers. I have interviewed Jim Davis before last year https://decisionstats.com/2009/06/05/interview-jim-davis-sas-institute/

Now Jim Davis is a big guy, and he is rushing from the launch of SAS Institute’s Social Media Analytics in Japan- to some arguably difficult flying conditions in time to be home in America for Thanksgiving. That and and I have not been much of a good Blog Boy recently, more swayed by love of open source, than love of software per se. I love equally, given I am bad at both equally.

Anyways, Jim’s contention  ( http://twitter.com/Davis_Jim ) was customers should go in business analytics only if there is Positive Return on Investment.  I am quoting him here-

What is important is that there be a positive ROI on each and every BA project. Otherwise don’t do it.

That’s not the marketing I was taught in my business school- basically it was sell, sell, sell.

However I see most BI sales vendors also go through -let me meet my sales quota for this quarter- and quantifying customer ROI is simple maths than predictive analytics but there seems to be some information assymetry in it.

Here is a paper from North Western University on ROI in IT projects-.

but overall it would be in the interest of customers and Business Analytics Vendors to publish aggregated ROI.

The opponents to this transparency in ROI would be market leaders in market share, who have trapped their customers by high migration costs (due to complexity) or contractually.

A recent study listed Oracle having a large percentage of unhappy customers who would still renew!, SAP had problems when it raised prices for licensing arbitrarily (that CEO is now CEO of HP and dodging legal notices from Oracle).

Indeed Jim Davis’s famous unsettling call for focusing on Business Analytics,as Business Intelligence is dead- that call has been implemented more aggressively by IBM in analytical acquisitions than even SAS itself which has been conservative about inorganic growth. Quantifying ROI, should theoretically aid open source software the most (since they are cheapest in up front licensing) or newer technologies like MapReduce /Hadoop (since they are quite so fast)- but I think that market has a way of factoring in these things- and customers are not as foolish neither as unaware of costs versus benefits of migration.

The contrary to this is Business Analytics and Business Intelligence are imperfect markets with duo-poly  or big players thriving in absence of customer regulation.

You get more protection as a customer of $20 bag of potato chips, than as a customer of a $200,000 software. Regulators are wary to step in to ensure ROI fairness (since most bright techies are qither working for private sector, have their own startup or invested in startups)- who in Govt understands Analytics and Intelligence strong enough to ensure vendor lock-ins are not done, and market flexibility is done. It is also a lower choice for embattled regulators to ensure ROI on enterprise software unlike the aggressiveness they have showed in retail or online software.

Who will Analyze the Analysts and who can quantify the value of quants (or penalize them for shoddy quantitative analytics)- is an interesting phenomenon we expect to see more of.

 

 

Which software do we buy? -It depends

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Often I am asked by clients, friends and industry colleagues on the suitability or unsuitability of particular software for analytical needs.  My answer is mostly-

It depends on-

1) Cost of Type 1 error in purchase decision versus Type 2 error in Purchase Decision. (forgive me if I mix up Type 1 with Type 2 error- I do have some weird childhood learning disabilities which crop up now and then)

Here I define Type 1 error as paying more for a software when there were equivalent functionalities available at lower price, or buying components you do need , like SPSS Trends (when only SPSS Base is required) or SAS ETS, when only SAS/Stat would do.

The first kind is of course due to the presence of free tools with GUI like R, R Commander and Deducer (Rattle does have a 500$ commercial version).

The emergence of software vendors like WPS (for SAS language aficionados) which offer similar functionality as Base SAS, as well as the increasing convergence of business analytics (read predictive analytics), business intelligence (read reporting) has led to somewhat brand clutter in which all softwares promise to do everything at all different prices- though they all have specific strengths and weakness. To add to this, there are comparatively fewer business analytics independent analysts than say independent business intelligence analysts.

2) Type 2 Error- In this case the opportunity cost of delayed projects, business models , or lower accuracy – consequences of buying a lower priced software which had lesser functionality than you required.

To compound the magnitude of error 2, you are probably in some kind of vendor lock-in, your software budget is over because of buying too much or inappropriate software and hardware, and still you could do with some added help in business analytics. The fear of making a business critical error is a substantial reason why open source software have to work harder at proving them competent. This is because writing great software is not enough, we need great marketing to sell it, and great customer support to sustain it.

As Business Decisions are decisions made in the constraints of time, information and money- I will try to create a software purchase matrix based on my knowledge of known softwares (and unknown strengths and weakness), pricing (versus budgets), and ranges of data handling. I will add in basically an optimum approach based on known constraints, and add in flexibility for unknown operational constraints.

I will restrain this matrix to analytics software, though you could certainly extend it to other classes of enterprise software including big data databases, infrastructure and computing.

Noted Assumptions- 1) I am vendor neutral and do not suffer from subjective bias or affection for particular software (based on conferences, books, relationships,consulting etc)

2) All software have bugs so all need customer support.

3) All software have particular advantages , strengths and weakness in terms of functionality.

4) Cost includes total cost of ownership and opportunity cost of business analytics enabled decision.

5) All software marketing people will praise their own software- sometimes over-selling and mis-selling product bundles.

Software compared are SPSS, KXEN, R,SAS, WPS, Revolution R, SQL Server,  and various flavors and sub components within this. Optimized approach will include parallel programming, cloud computing, hardware costs, and dependent software costs.

To be continued-