As some countries are slowly reopening, albeit with major concessions to the post-pandemic reality, organisations face a challenging future. Even the most lucrative technology companies are not spared as they struggle with the cultural and mental health implications of employees' prolonged isolation and dispersion. While humans have a tendency to revert to old habits, now is the time for clear-eyed transformation. Analytics leaders need to be the catalysts.

Firstly, organisations need to make painful choices. Whether it involves letting employees go, defunding programs, folding business units, or even just reallocating spend, a lot of these choices are unpleasant and involve risk. Speak up. Make sure the organisation does the right thing, and not the convenient thing. In the words of American statistician Edward W. Deming: "In God we trust, all others bring data." It is your job to bring the data.

Red flag: You find yourself ignoring uncomfortable data because you do not want to cause a fuss, or your stakeholders ignore you for the same reason.

Cruise ships take time to turn. Like many organisations Covid-19 hit them hard. Photo by Faria Anzum.

Secondly, organisations need to simultaneously increase agility and reduce costs. Cloud native approaches to data and AI can rapidly achieve both. For example, with reduced transaction volumes, it is trivial to reduce computing infrastructure in the cloud, whereas a multi-million dollar BI implementation from a traditional vendor will continue on the same cost base. While data is not a function of IT, data leaders can champion this evolution.

Red flag: The data organisation lacks autonomy in moving beyond legacy platforms and BI solutions, with negative cost and performance implications.

Thirdly, organisations need to be able to make accurate decisions. While we all know that data quality and governance are important, these topics are often neglected. This is no longer a theoretical discussion. Seize the initiative and hold the business accountable for the quality of the data they capture. If the quality of the underlying data is poor, the results of your analyses will be useless. Even worse, if the data is not captured at all.

Red flag: Data quality issues are not discussed and if they are they are the data organisation's problem, not anything to do with the wider business.

Making the wrong choice often hurts, but doubly so in times of crisis. Photo by kimi lee.

Finally, organisations need wins to inspire their employees. Few initiatives can deliver value as quickly – or on such a large scale – as  those related to data, analytics, and artificial intelligence. Your work should therefore be focused on impact. While data strategies and longer term plans matter, you need to demonstrate constant progress and immediate impact. Work closely with the business to make visible change happen. Every week counts.

Red flag: You are not able to demonstrate progress on a fortnightly basis. What products you ship are not adopted by other business functions.

The IMF is predicting a 6.5 percentage point drop in global GDP for 2021. Coupled with uncertainty around vaccine timelines and Covid-19 mitigation strategies, it is clear that the next months will be incredibly tough. Analytics leaders have an obligation to their organisations, their teams, and themselves to champion the right course of action for these times, instead of pretending everything is fine. We will be fine, but we now require incisive leadership.

– Ryan