Tina Helg, Stellar ConsultingBy Dr Tina Helg, Senior Consultant at Stellar

The SAS New Zealand User Group Conference, held this week in Wellington, was a great success. The conference theme – How to change perceptions with analytics – shifted the emphasis to the softer skills. I was impressed by the outward/forward looking presentations of thought leaders from within our community. Common themes emerged throughout the day as presenters shared their journeys.

Jason Healy, NZ Rugby Performance Analysis Manager, set the tone in the keynote, with themes of culture, communication, and collaboration. The analytics team are immersed in the culture of the All Blacks, supporting the historic win at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the All Black legacy.

We heard the “heresy” that the data is not everything. The focus is on providing clarity rather than simplistic success metrics. The All Black reputation for perfection extends to the analysis team and we learned you really don’t want to tell Steve Hansen that you got it wrong! A key take-home is “Data is about me, analysis is about us”.

The Keynote Panel supplied keen insights to bring analytics out of the back room and into the boardroom: the importance of storytelling and “making it real”. Ethics were a theme, especially for government regarding aggregating data for vulnerable people.

The Technical Stream presentations from SAS were practical demonstrations of tools on real data sets with fundamental ideas transcending the toolset. Ideas such as: the rise of the citizen data scientist, incorporation of unstructured data, emphasis on actionable analysis, key aspects of analytics in the cloud, modern analytical architecture, pragmatic governance, data lakes and discovery pools.

The afternoon sessions reinforced and expanded ideas on communication and culture. As analysts, we can sometimes feel that the evidence is clear, but that we have limited ability to influence. These sessions were lessons in how to shift our focus to move towards an analytics culture.

  • Joe Robbins, Analytics Manager at Kiwibank, uses creative communication techniques such as rich pictures and personal stories to connect with stakeholders.
  • Kat Greenbrook, Independent Analytics Consultant, suggests that useful lessons may be learned from the start-up culture where data driven companies set no limits, question everything, actually talk to people, and – most difficult of all – foster an “It’s OK to fail” environment.

My favourite take-homes from SUNZ 2016 are “question everything”, “discover what’s important”, and “make it matter”.

Thanks to the organisers and other sponsors of this excellent event.