Analytics for Beginners

By Tanya Houseman posted 05-05-2021 13:42

Please enjoy this blog post from Tanya Houseman, Senior Data Analytics & Reporting Specialist, Fenwick & West.

Analytics is measuring what matters: Did we make our goals? How can we do better? Where do we need to pivot? It sounds so simple and yet some people treat analytics as if they were getting their teeth pulled without anesthesia. There are many books written on data readiness and the various stages businesses can work through. This is a high-level overview is for those who are not familiar with data.

Why is it so critical that businesses – especially law firms – become more data driven? From Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris offered the following explanation in their book, “Analytics at Work,” with additional commentary in italics. They said that analytics:

  • Help manage and steer the business in turbulent (and non-turbulent) times. Analytics give managers tools to understand the dynamics of their business, including how economic and marketplace shifts influence business performance.

  • Know what’s really working. Rigorous analytical testing can establish whether your intervention is causing desired changes in your business, or whether it’s simply the result of random statistical fluctuations.

  • Leverage previous investments in IT and information to get more insight, faster execution and more business value in many business processes. (This requires cross-vertical collaboration and buy-in throughout your organization. If you’re working in a siloed environment, you will need to build information sharing into your data plan.)

  • Cut costs and improve efficiency. Optimization techniques can minimize asset requirements, and predictive models can anticipate market shifts and enable companies to move quickly to slash costs and eliminate waste. (Predictive modeling requires a mature, data-driven company and is the holy grail of analytics at work. You should be working towards data that is sharable, automated and self-serviced.)

Where to start?

There is a process (or a journey) to becoming data ready. First, evaluate where your company lives in the data readiness model. Is your team still living in Microsoft Excel with disparate data sources housed on local drives of a select few people? Do you have dedicated staff working on the data structure, analysis or systems? Is your relationship with data reactive, responsive or proactive?

  1. Is your team still living in Excel with disparate data sources housed on local drives of a select few people?
  2. Do you have dedicated staff working on the data structure, analysis, or systems?
  3. Is your relationship with data reactive, responsive, or proactive?

Graphic courtesy of

The data pyramid here shows you how to move from the bottom of the pyramid to the top. However, before you start to gather your data and organize it, you will need to:

  • Get buy-in from important stakeholders

  • Work across various departments to investigate where data is stored

  • Document what types of data you have

  • Find out who owns the data

  • Create a data governance

  • Determine which data sources can be joined to discover more insights.

Where you start depends on how far along your company is on its data journey. If you’re just starting on the road to data maturity, you will first need to analyze and understand what shape your data is in and what it’s going to take to clean and begin certifying data sources. Certifying the data sources means that the data is cleaned, approved and ready for sharing. It also means that you have come to an agreement on how the data is aggregated and the business objective outcomes that you will measure.

As you close the deltas from beginning your journey to a data-driven company, it is important to focus on the following as your organization builds the data lakes and analyzes and curates the data.

  • It takes a lot of curiosity to work with data effectively. What other data can you blend in to tease out more insights into what you have? What are the important questions that will lead to action or decisions? How do show the data so your audience can easily understand what’s going on? What are the reasons for what you are seeing in the data?

  • As previously mentioned, cross-department involvement and buy-in is important, especially during the initial adoption process. You will need C-suite support as well as involvement from your information systems department, not to mention various departments such as litigation, corporate, partners, finance, communications, marketing, information governance and others.

  • When you start sharing data, don’t assume your audience is going to be excited to devour your insights. Data is a very iterative process. It is best to begin by user-testing your reports/platforms, rolling it out incrementally and creating an adoption plan that runs throughout the implementation. Part of the reason for this is to make data less “scary,” to build trust and to show how data can help each department.

For further reading on bringing data analysis into your firm, check out these additional resources.