Skinning “analytics,” the word

“Analytics,” the term, has been twisted so badly that Wayne Eckerson last month felt moved to rescue it with a definition. Rather, two definitions, possibly more.

One definition is capitalized, the other is not. What “analytics” might mean in italics, all caps, or underlined he doesn’t say.

Whatever the typography, Wayne just might have the stature to make it all stick. He’s been around the industry for nearly two decades, now as the TechTarget director of research and president of BI Leader Consulting. People know him, respect him, and like him.

The capital-A meaning takes the “macro perspective.” He says it’s “the processes, technologies, and best practices that turns data into information and knowledge that drives business decisions and actions.” The small-A version means “various technologies that business people use to analyze data.”

Referring to Tom Davenport’s use of “analytics” in his book titles instead of “business intelligence,” Wayne seems to imply that “analytics” should replace it elsewhere, too.

That suits me. “Analytics” does something “BI” can’t do. It throws light on the real point of the industry: making sense of data.

But Wayne’s proposal is doomed. No definition will stick that makes us refer to a dictionary before each use. I would still have to pause before dropping either one into a conversation, and that would probably be the same for most other people, I suspect. That kills it.

Am I the only slow learner around here? I asked for opinions from my modest network of data analysts. A reply came from just one of them (who asked for anonymity), far fewer than normal. That analyst emailed that he doesn’t care what “analytics” means. He added, “What is the deal with such pompous, elaborate definitions?”

Exactly. What is the deal?

The terms that stick do so in an instant. Tableau seems to have pulled it off with its word for visualizations, “viz.” It’s simple and sounds like it must have been picked up on “the street.” They also repeat it often in their blog, and a cadre of devoted users sing along.

Wayne muses toward the end of his post, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Yes, sooner or later, we’ll come up with a best practice. But for now, this cat has run away, unskinned.

The data industry thrives on conversation. Please submit a comment.

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