Sustaining Outstanding Analytics: Challenges and Success Strategies

Friday, March 11, 2022

How do Advanced Analytics leaders sustain great teams, companies, and agencies? The INFORMS Practice Section conducts a webinar series, moderated by Dr. Arnie Greenland, featuring presentations and interviews with leaders of a variety of organizations. On January 21 Steve was the guest; following is a lightly edited excerpt.

Arnie Greenland: You run an external consulting organization, not embedded in a large company. What are the challenges, differences, and success strategies that you use to operate in that environment?

Steve Sashihara: The best and biggest organizations have in‑house departments. One strategy is never to see ourselves in competition with them, and to let them know that we are working for them, not against them. For example, every large organization has an in‑house legal department that seeks outside lawyers for special cases and so forth. We want to be those outside lawyers, the outside consultants that help. We really strive to be compatible with the in‑house groups.

Most in‑house groups spend, I would say, 95 percent of their time in their own four walls within their enterprise or their industry. Because we see a lot of different clients in many different industries, we can bring a lot of techniques and a variety of success stories. I think it’s very helpful to cross‑fertilize, particularly in some of the most important industries that are highly regulated—they are very slow-moving and often just looking over their shoulders at what the other firms in their peer group are doing. That’s why as a business executive you are always talking about disruption. A disruptor is not one of your competitors—somebody getting superpowers and crashing you. It’s a small company, a Silicon Valley startup perhaps, that just comes up and eats everyone’s lunch. Sometimes being an outsider allows you to help a company by saying, “How would someone outside your industry see what you are doing right now? That seems an awful like what other people doing in their industries—just not in yours.”

So for us, working with the in‑house teams is important. Second, we can use the advantage that we’re outsiders and bring in new ideas, rather than try to convince everyone we are subject matter experts.

Arnie: A question from the audience: “Do you endeavor to equip your clients to build the next analytics applications themselves?” If so, what kind of people in the client organization are best equipped to do it themselves? How does Princeton Consultants help?”

Steve: Many client organizations are great at the discovery side of things. They will have a handful of brilliant people, long-term or short-term, who know their industry really well. They know their client really well. They know the data. They have good relationships. They’re good at digging out new proof of concepts. However, many client organizations are weak at getting those innovations into production. We are always trying to help our clients with deployment—that was the focus of my book, The Optimization Edge. I have a view that you can “expand the pie,” meaning that as everyone now is talking about AI, let’s get people into AI that works. The more that that is happening, the more it’s good for everyone on this call.

Arnie: What does the future look like for analytics at Princeton Consultants?

Steve: I don’t think that AI is a passing stage or buzzword. If I look back over my corporate history, I recall many different theories of how to grow business. One was through Finance, the other was through HR. It’s not like money’s not important or people aren't important, but for the first time what people are calling AI or smart algorithms on smart data, and building models, is making executives say, “Maybe this is the key. Maybe this is the difference between Uber and a taxi company. Maybe this is what we should all be doing, and if we don’t do it, maybe we’re going to be left behind.”

I would like to think that in the future AI and advanced analytics practitioners are going to be in the spotlight and executives are going to say, “OK, you asked for the funding, you asked for the game ball, here it is. Now run it. Show us that you can score and that you can lead the way.” I really look forward to that! I think our field will be expanding. It will be harder and harder for us to turn down requests from our work. We’ll have to be more discerning about new business because we will want to work on projects that clearly have all the success factors lined up so that we can succeed with and for our client.

Arnie: Thank you, Steve, this was great.

Steve: Thanks to everyone for spending an hour with me, and I’ll look forward to talking anytime I can.

View Steve's webinar and others in the series here: