Exec buy-in for Data Analytics: One part groundwork, one part leap of faith

Craig Sharp

Speaking to Anders Reinhardt, Head of Global Business Intelligence at VELUX ahead of the Data Analytics Nordics Summit in February, PEX Network finds out more about how to sell the idea of Big Data to your executive – what’s the key to that much needed executive buy-in?

Craig Sharp: Good morning Anders, thank you for joining us today.

Anders Reinhardt: Good morning Craig, thank you for having me.

Craig Sharp: We’ve spoken about your big data program, its intent and purpose and the results you’ve begun to see. But what’s the key to getting the executive buy-in needed to get a project such as this off of the ground?

Anders Reinhardt: We agreed with VELUX management that prior to making any decision about how the analytics should look in the future, we’d ask key stakeholders in the organization about their own future requirements. Not the tools so much, but the capabilities they’d need, what would help them achieve their business goals?

The conclusion from those discussions was that they needed access to more data sources, they needed more flexibility and self-service. They wanted something that was faster than what they already had. Based on that feedback, we were able to get sign-off on investment into a more future-proof platform.


Craig Sharp: So that was the key? Getting executive buy-in meant demonstrating the value before the investment?

Anders Reinhardt: That’s always a part of the discussion. We’ve always had very good support around the business intelligence area. So when I went to them and said, "We have old technology, we have no creative vision of what our company wants, we can’t do anything modern with our current platform", we got a positive response.

I think in four or five years we’re going to see a huge uptick in analytical demand. We knew, of course, that things were stirring in finance because of where I sit organizationally myself. From my perspective, we’d seen the light and that was enough for our management. So of course that’s when we began asking internal stakeholders what they wanted to see from a platform, and after three months of collecting this data we had our results.

Craig Sharp: Big Data can be quite a sizeable investment; it’s a big financial commitment isn’t it? How did you get approval for that?

Anders Reinhardt: It was quite a big investment but, again, I think we let the results speak for themselves. Our research showed that the platform needed to be modernized, and when you go from one generation [of technology] to the next you have to invest. But everybody knew we needed analytics because of our research – that was very powerful, they could see very comprehensively that there was a need there.

The initial investment – when we invested in the front-end tools – was not that big. The largest investment was actually the in-memory component and we couldn’t find a business case for it until we ran a process-planning project. Then people realized that if we wanted to go from yearly calculations to more agile monthly calculations then we’d need something beyond the capabilities of what we had at the time.

I think we’re lucky though, no amount of research can distract from the fact that future-proofing by it’s very nature is nothing more than informed estimations – it’s not certain. I think to some extent it’s a leap of faith. We did a very thorough job with the business case but I really believe it’s also down to management trusting you and your team if they’re going to make that investment.

One of the reasons it was a little easier for us is we already had an established BI board, but it was really difficult to get that initial investment. Later on it was extremely easy to show the benefits of it, because that ground work had been done at that point – we’d gone some way to demonstrating the value in data.

Craig Sharp: So aside from the preparation and research etc., a leap of faith on management’s part is still crucial to getting approval?

Anders Reinhardt: I think so, and to some extent it’s understandable if you don’t have that BI foundation. It’s also a generational problem, in many boardrooms if you don’t have that advocate, that ambassador… we’re fortunate that we had one in our CFO.

So it’s a little bit about a leap of faith and a little bit about getting management involved on a day to day basis in analytics so they can clearly see the benefits and the bigger picture. Get that initial investment, get your BI board, then consider what you can do with them. Demonstrate their value and begin to look at wider strategic initiatives once that groundwork has been laid.