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Is Leadership the Missing Link for Analytics?

Avatar of Kate M. Long
Kate M. Long

Post Highlights

  • IBM Study Reviews Analytics for Public Sector
  • Why Leadership is Key in Effective Analytics
  • How Leadership Skills Can Fully Help You Leverage Your Agency’s Data Use

All around the internet, newspapers and in magazines, there has been plenty of talk of about analytics as a way for the public sector to cut waste, fraud, abuse and find new efficiencies to meet the complex needs of a government agency. Though the benefits of analytics in business strategy is nothing new, there is a growing number of case studies from the public sector. One trend has become clear, there is a critical gap in utilizing analytics in both the public and private sectors, this missing piece is leadership.

In IBM’s report, “The Strategic Use of Analytics in Government,” (2008), Thomas H. Davenport and Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa discussed methods of analyzing the effectiveness of analytic strategy in both private and public companies. Although the report was written in 2008, there are a lot of interesting insights and applications to how analytics is used today. What they found after evaluating companies through interviews and secondary reports was that there was a serious lack of leadership in both the private and public sector. They stated:

“On the whole, while we found many examples of the successful use of analytics, we did not find the elements of leadership, an enterprise orientation, and long-term strategic targeting that would characterize both managerial innovation in general and a strategic focus on analytics in particular.”

Six years later the problem remains; government agencies still are not taking full advantage of using analytics to improve productivity. This is no longer from a complete lack of trying; while data is anything but scarce, the way to use it and to what purpose needs to be determined (or at least understood) by someone in a position of authority in order to continue to work efficiently. According to the report, “governmental leaders do not, as a group, seem to have recognized analytical capabilities as a route to meeting their strategic goals.” Instead, governmental leaders have been more focused on using technology to collection mass amounts information instead of using the information to move forward.

Although the report states that government as a group has yet to realize the benefits of analytics, there are many excellent case studies of how government has leveraged analytics. One great example comes from the Alameda County Social Services Agency, in which analytics was used to do identify fraud (saving $11 million) and to keep track of those in the system to improve the delivery of benefits. Although Alameda County Social Services Agency is a great case study, the public sector still has room for improvement to identify the benefits of analytics, and fully leverage the opportunities analytics presents.


The focus on improving technology to increase productivity, while important, has taken the focus away from improving the skills of the people working in a federal organization.

“What is not widely available in either the public or private sectors of the economy is the human dimension of analytical competition: leadership, disciplined management, and deep analytical expertise…. We therefore argue that managerial innovation is a better approach to establishing strategic analytical capabilities than technological innovation.”

A company cannot rely solely on analytic strategy software and expect it to replace the creativity and innovation that comes from the human mind. And now, with technology growing faster than ever, government agencies need to focus on cultivating skills in their employees, especially those in higher positions, so that they can continue to use analytics to reach and exceed their goals. However, these improvements need to be guided by leaders to ensure long term success.

The first step in creating analytics leaders is making those in managerial positions understand the importance of analytics. Once they are on board and can see the productivity ahead, they can rally their team to work efficiently to analyze the wealth of data acquired to develop the most successful strategies. That being said, leadership in general is one of the most difficult skills to develop, especially in such a diverse work environment found in many federal agencies.

To address the age-old question of “what makes a good leader?” GovLoop created a guide called Ten Traits of a Great Government Leader, which was followed by two other blog posts (i) that link to a myriad of other articles on the topic. The guide talks about things like how to handle conflicts and how to build cooperative and efficient team. These basic leadership skills can then easily translate into improving analytic leadership.

Is leadership the key to analytics? How can the public sector cultivate analytic leaders?


(i) 1. The GovLoop Leadership Guide Companion: Transforming the Toughest Employees and Teams (2 of 3)
2. The GovLoop Leadership Guide Companion: Beyond Doing More with Less: Doing Different (3 of 3)

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Avatar Image Marilyn

if only they would take the reins off those of us that want to lead and do the analysis, then we could actually go somewhere :)

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