‘Big Data’, ‘analytics’, ‘machine learning’, ‘AI’…the list of misused and misunderstood terms grows exponentially the more technology evolves. Of course, most IT executives understand the definitions and capabilities of emerging technologies, and many even see the opportunities that are possible – it’s the business executives that may need further explanation.

I’ve heard many variations of the same story. A CEO walks into a meeting inspired by a new buzz word they read about in an airline magazine. They don’t exactly know what it is, but they know they need it. The problem lies in the gap of knowledge that is now looming, and it’s the CIO’s responsibility to educate leaders about the investments in people, time and technology to make this new trend a reality.

We’ve heard the term ‘managing up’, but in this case, how do we ‘teach up’? Chances are, as a CIO, you’ve been waiting for the day that leadership is excited about a new technology, so how can we make sure to capitalize on these opportunities?

For this, let’s look at BI and analytics. Today, most companies are building or enhancing their BI and analytics capabilities. In fact, a recent survey of 110 IT executive attending the MIDMRKT CIO Forum has BI and analytics as the top ranked priority, with more than 60 interested attendees.

Here are three things to remember when educating the business on BI and analytics.

1. Use clear and concise language and work the definitions into every meeting and presentation. Language is key to building a data-driven culture.

According to the Pepperdine School of Management and Business, business intelligence is a general term that describes any process or piece of software that analyzes a company’s raw data. This means that business intelligence is reactive, providing an accurate assessment of where your business currently sits based on past performance. BI helps leaders accurately identify current business issues and can effectively inform immediate decision-making.
Business analytics, on the other hand, refers to more technical solutions that focus on predicting future performance. BA involves discovering patterns and predicting trends, which are then used to guide the decision-making process to create better long-term results.

In short, explain to business leaders that BI is generally looking back at historical data, and BA is looking forward at what to expect.

2. Make the technology relevant to the business. Do not talk about the technology needs to make the trend a reality – talk about how the business will gain value with a new capability.

Though the technical acumen of many business leaders is rising, CIOs are still responsible for speaking the language of the business. CEOs and CFOs want to know what value the new technology will bring to the company by reducing costs, creating efficiencies, or adding to the bottom line. They don’t want to know what models can be created with a new type of software or the compute capabilities you’ll need in order to move forward with their Big Data initiative.

According to Forbes, the top benefits of BI include identifying new opportunities, optimizing pricing, improving sales and assessing productivity. So, if a business leader is looking to purchase new BI capabilities, but wants to further understand the benefits, speak to them in these terms.

In the case of BA, it’s useful to talk about the business problem that the analytics can help solve and the future value the organization will receive from their analytics-driven decisions. Harvard Business Review states that the top benefits of Business Analytics are improving the quality of decision making and improving planning and forecasting. Help them foresee the value in the problems that they could solve.

3. In every conversation about BI and analytics, tell a story.

It’s no secret that storytelling is a powerful tool. People can connect to compelling and passionate stories, especially if they are a leading character in the narrative.

We know that BI answers “the what,” while BA answers “the why.” To further the understanding of business leaders, give an example such as this:

If a grocery store is trying to use business intelligence and analytics to figure out the optimal way to stock new products on the shelves, they would first need to figure out “the what.”

BI would tell the owners what products were most successful in the past. BI would also reveal what types of products have been unsuccessful and should not be stocked in large numbers or given prime placement.

Based on the BI information, BA would then tell the owners why certain types of products have been successful based on the discovery of meaningful trends, such as weather changes, holidays, etc. The store could thus predict that every December they should stock up on ham, gingerbread, and eggnog, or they should put the strawberry Pop-Tarts out front before a hurricane comes to town. It is absolutely necessary to know “the why,” to predict future behavior and needs of customers.

Educating your boss is not easy, especially when their excitement for a new trend is blinding. Remember, be patient and leverage every opportunity you have by using your business acumen to tell a relevant story about the value these extraordinary technologies can bring to the organization.