Competing on Analytics – what it means

by Justin Souter on December 8, 2011


This is the second post that looks at how managers can harness analytics for business advantage, and maximise their chances of making such a programme a success.

It’s something I will be learning about in more detail soon – I’ve got Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results and ‘Moneyball’ being delivered from Amazon. The latter is book by Michael Lewis, and now a movie about using analytics to successfully compete against other sports teams who have deeper pockets.

This post, therefore, looks more at the ‘how to’ of harnessing analytics – with a section some of Tom Davenport’s key points, and another about my trip to watch Moneyball and associated learnings.

Analytics at Work – learnings

Key take-aways

The following two images are from the presentation below. I think Tom’s spot-on about the goal being better decisions.

image image


Recent slides from Tom

Useful as a summary of his key thoughts, and check-lists that you can use for yourself.


I was lucky enough to read this bbc article about the movie in time to go watch it last week. I was glad I went, as I really enjoyed it. Maybe I need to watch it again to appreciate Brad Pitt’s performance, as actually I thought Philip Seymour Hoffman was terrific as the Oakland A’s on-field team manager.

My learnings

Key learnings for me were:

  • How Brad Pitt’s management team operate, and the amount of confrontation involved.
    • For me, I would be wanting to pro-actively manage the change, but perhaps baseball has a different culture!
    • Perhaps also the lack of confrontation when players get traded
  • The courage that his character, Billy Beane, shows in following through with the statistical methods in the face of opposition from his immediate colleagues, and actually doubling-down on the bet
  • The fact that these methods are like an arms race, in that you’re striving to keep ahead of the competition, as they learn from what works for you
  • That you don’t make your decisions on players because “they’ve got an ugly girlfriend”!

Tom Davenport’s take

Tom Davenport’s post “Six Things Your Company Has in Common with the Oakland A’s” has the following summary points:

  1. Analytics can provide you with a competitive edge
  2. Analytics can help you recruit your best team
  3. The change to an emphasis on analytics will require strong leadership
  4. Getting an edge requires special skills—and sufficient attention
  5. You can count on opposition
  6. Analytics alone can’t carry the day

This brings us to the question of where your resemblance to the Oakland A’s of a decade ago ends. Depending on the industry you’re in, it may be too late to use analytics to best competitors with deeper pockets. (Safe to say you’ve definitely missed your chance to have Brad Pitt will play you in a film about your heroic analytical leadership.) That doesn’t mean you should ignore the great story of what Beane achieved with the A’s. The power of competing on analytics doesn’t remain a secret for long, but your team can always play the game better.

Film trailer


Watching the movie brought alive the power of analytics – when used effectively – to power successful decision making. Stats can be dry, and need to be viewed in context with more subjective factors; used well, they can make the difference between winning and losing.

Now, with data from internal systems and the explosion of it the showing customer preferences (through monitoring social media content), combined with massive processing power from cloud computing, this is a trend which is only going to grow. How are you going to approach this?

[Regarding copyright, the articles I’ve embedded are in the public domain, so I believe that actually there’s benefit to Tom and HBR in driving interest to these topics, their reprints and books.]

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