What’s your favorite analytics software?

My colleagues, clients, and partners have always come to me when they have a question about deploying analytics software in the built environment. Without hesitation, the most frequently-asked question, especially for newcomers, is this: 

What’s your favorite analytics software?

Or this: 

What do you think of X software? Is it better than Y? 

Lucky for me, I love answering this question. I have plenty of opinions on the merits of this or that brand. I love to go down a rabbit hole of the best energy data visualizations or fault detection algorithms. I love calling out vendors for bullshit marketing hype and selling nothing but smoke and mirrors.

But I can’t answer it. Not yet at least.

First of all, it’s the wrong place to start. This software market has hundreds of vendors and service providers, all with diverse sets of capabilities, features, pricing models, user communities, interoperability, etc. Each vendor wants to take you to the promised land. But where is your promised land? What are you trying to accomplish? Also, software is simply a tool. You can just turn it on expect results. In other words, wherever your promised land is, software is not going to take you there on its own. You need a strategy to get what you want out of it. 

Look, being hyper-focused on software is understandable. Every day there’s a hip new “disruptive” startup in our industry with slick dashboards and some sort of AI. Even the old incumbent companies, the ones those startups are hoping to disrupt, have a new analytics product they’re pushing. As a result, the vendor landscape is overwhelming, confusing, and always changing. The pace of change leaves us feeling like we’re being left behind if we don’t jump on the bandwagon asap, at any cost. Oh, and did I mention the hype? 

Don’t get me wrong – I believe we should be hyped. Software can help us do our jobs better, save wasted energy in our buildings, and kick ass. But we don’t need to jump on the bandwagon so fast. We need to slow down and take a step back. We need a different question, a different starting point. How about: 

What’s the first step in implementing analytics in my organization? 

My answer: The first step is always strategy.  

A strategy starts with what you want to achieve. What is your ultimate goal? As Stephen Covey says, begin with the end in mind. Where do you want to be in 1, 3, and 10 years? How will you get there?

Next, a strategy includes many parts – the tools and tactics you’ll employ to reach that destination. Again, software is just one of those parts. What else do you need to consider? Let’s walk through the top 3.

1. Human strategy

Since we’re talking about analytics, it might seem like software is the most important part of your strategy. It’s not. Analytics software is a human-in-the-loop technology. Without humans, nothing happens with the insights created by the software. 

How is the organization going to change with these new capabilities? How will this tie in to everything else you’re already doing? Who’s going to use the software, what are their roles, and what processes will need to be in place? Who will you need to hire?

2. Business strategy

Next, how will you make the business case? Start with the obvious metrics: funding, potential savings, return on investment, etc. But don’t stop there. Can this strategy tie to your overall organizational mission? If you run a data center, how can this help increase uptime and resilience? If you run a hospital, how can this impact patient health and satisfaction? It pays to widen your gaze. 

If you’re planning to resell analytics software and services to your clients, this includes the business model you plan to employ. Most firms aren’t successful when they try to bolt new technology onto an old business model. Think that through.

3. Overcoming obstacles

Next, make plans for overcoming the inevitable obstacles in the path to your destination. What could derail this whole thing? Here’s a few of the most common: 

  • What if there’s no funding? 
  • Who will this upset or offend? Who will drag their feet, kicking and screaming? 
  • How will we get the team motivated, engaged, and make sure the software gets used? 
  • What about technical challenges such as system integration, IT red tape, and cyber security? 
  • Do you have the information and documentation the software needs to be successful? Remember the old adage: garbage in, garbage out. 
  • What’s our plan for squashing software bugs? 

Whew, we made it. Now we’ve done the work required to start choosing a software vendor. Now we can begin matching the capabilities available in the marketplace with our needs. Now we can choose our favorite. Well done. 

I realize these questions are tough to answer. They’ll take some work. But I’ve seen the alternative too many times. Software before strategy wastes money, time, energy, and results in said software collecting virtual dust on a virtual shelf. Making this investment up front will pay dividends for years to come.