The Analytic Entrepreneur Series: Dr. Robert Phillips Interview Follow-up

My interview with Dr. Bob Phillips generated much interest and some great follow-on questions from readers. Bob responded to these questions in detail as a comment to the original post.  I have reproduced the questions and Bob’s answers below to make it easier for readers.

When enumerating the reasons why companies don’t implement analytics, he listed “budget, organizational bandwidth, politics, or sheer inertia”. i wish you would have drawn him into expanding on that, particularly in the context of the current economy. one would suspect that feelings of uncertainty about the future would tend to hit this sector twice over: few companies have the stomach for investment and fewer still believe in solutions that promise better decision-making when the future looks so murky.

Bob: I definitely believe that the current financial situation has made some companies more reluctant to invest in new things. In many cases, the budget for innovative approaches has simply disappeared. Selling to financial services companies, I have seen plenty of that over the last year! Clearly some fi-serve companies have also been rattled by the apparent failure of many of their current systems that failed to anticipate the meltdown. On the other hand, these situations create opportunities to sell to companies who are looking for a new way of doing things. So, at least at Nomis, we are begining to see a definite pick up in business and interest over the last four months.

Great interview with Bob! I would like to know from Bob if he has had customers tell him “Prove it to me that your analytics works by sharing both risks and rewards!”. What has Bob’s experience been like in successfully establishing KPI-based compensation for his analytics solutions?

– Satish Bhat

Bob: Regarding the gain-share arrangements that Satish mentions — I have mixed feelings. I think it is important to offer gain-share and be willing to negotiate it if the customer insists but I have had very few cases in which we have ended up concluding a gain-share agreement. Obviously, there is the need to have a very clear metric which both parties agree on as a “fair” measure of benefit regardless of market changes which has often been difficult. Secondly, in the areas in which I have worked, the potential upside has often been so large — $100s of millions in some cases — that companies have realized that they would be better off with a fixed fee. Finally, I have been somewhat hesitant to enter gainshare arrangements because I don’t like to give customers a motivation — even unconsciously — to try to minimize the benefits that one of our solutions has provided. I would rather have them out saying that my company’s solution made them $500 million to the world rather than being concerned about how large they can say the benefits are publicly.

But, I know that some companies have been quite successful with gain-sharing engagements, so it is probably partly just me.

Had a question for Bob – he alluded to budget, organizational bandwidth, politics, or sheer inertia being reasons why analytics isn’t implemented.

More often than not, when I run into cases where analytics isn’t embraced, there is a story that involves investments the company made, low subsequent adoption, hard to tease out and quantify value leading to a spiralling downwards cycle that ends up with a complete loss of faith. I suspect the reasons he mentioned all play a part, but can he comment on the notion of faith in analytics (as oxymoronic as it sounds), and what we in the analytical world can do better?

Vijay Subramanian
Engagement Director, Oracle Retail

Bob: I think there are two issues. One is “faith in analytics”, which varies from company to company and industry to industry with financial services and airlines (to mention two industries with which I am quite familiar) ranking very high and, perhaps hotels (especially ten years ago) ranking lower. Not much you can do about this except acknowledge that, in some cases, you are not only selling your solution, you are also selling the idea of analytics. The second issue is coming in, in the wake of a failed engagement in which someone else’s solution, for whatever reason, did not deliver the promised benefits and ended up abandoned. I guess the biggest reason that I see for this is a combination of lack of appropriate senior commitment at the company initially combined with a lack of follow-up and true pro-active support from the solution provider. The first six months following installation of a new analtyic solution is critically important and to be successful often requires heroic efforts on the part of provider that go beyond the traditional definitions of “support” and “maintenance”. The combination of a weakly committed management and an insufficiently active supplier is a recipe for rejection, no matter how “good” the solution might be in technical terms.

Sorry to be so long winded — hope this is useful.

Rama: Bob, Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed answers. And thank you to the readers for great questions.


2 thoughts on “The Analytic Entrepreneur Series: Dr. Robert Phillips Interview Follow-up”

  1. wonderfully informative interview and feedback. This is a great platform to hear from the pioneers of the analytic age, and looking forward to more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *