So what?!

“The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers.” ~ Richard Hamming

In the manifestos of most analytical teams and thousands of analyst job specs the words “deliver insight” ring proud. This is surely what we all aspire to do. It’s such a powerful word. Insight. Being insightful. It conjures images of wisdom and intellect beyond the ken of normal man.

But what really is it?

Providing another metric to a manager may be the result of some analysis and from this insight can be said to be derived. “I knew our service level in packaging had gone down but it wasn’t until Smithers told me that the “time to lick envelope” figures had doubled I understood why!” Awesome, but is that insightful?

How about showing the relationship between the figures being analysed? Knowing that a rise in workload in the training department results in a drop in contact centre service level with a three months lag is great. Drawing the line between them from the reduction in training sessions, increase in time to competency, dwindling individual calls per minute and ultimately longer call ringing times, is fantastic. If the key decision maker was unaware of this relationship then surely this is insightful information for them. But is that insight delivery or good MI from which the manager can draw their own insight?

Maybe insight delivery is where you take the next step and say that the company should recruit more janitors to improve the NPS of online customers (because the live chat team constantly have to go to the upper floors to find a toilet with paper meaning customer wait times are double what they could be). However, isn’t this taking the next step and making (or at least proposing) the decision? It certainly starts to fall more within the realm of a CI or project team than an analytical department.

So what?

Do we need a definition of insight? No, not really. if we all have slightly different views of what it is or we all just have some nebulous “I know it when I see it” concept, that’s fine. The system isn’t broken. However, I have a concept of where insight delivery exists for me I’d like to put forward. It lies in the question in the title.

Answering this question, “So what?” repeatedly, diligently and intelligently is, to me, a key element of providing insight into a subject. Envelope licking time has doubled? So what? So the packaging team budget is being blown on overtime, the staff are getting burned out, the customers are waiting longer and satisfaction is dwindling. Eventually this filters through to review ratings and comments and suddenly Sales are going nuts because they’re losing market share and commissions are dropping off.

So insight delivery is impact assessment?

Certainly I believe that is part of it. Both predicting future impacts as well as any autopsy of historic events to understand what led to the known results. But do I feel that the insight we’re called on to deliver is more subtle and reaches further. Throughout our lives we want to gain better understanding of the causes and effects of our environment to keep us safe, sated and hopefully successful. In the same way, understanding the interactions of a business allow us to achieve our goals.

Analysing the requirements of the goal , the environment and the relevant relationships between all the parts we have sight of; these things allow us to draw a line from uncertainty to understanding. A line strewn with answers to the question: “So what?”