The longtime Colorado resident and Broncos fan in me watched Super Bowl 50 with great interest on Sunday. The longtime analytics industry veteran in me did the same. 

And while the fan fixated on the excitement of my hometown team pulling off the big upset, the analytics veteran couldn’t help but fixate on the many parallels between the way the Broncos went about winning the Super Bowl, and the way smart businesses can go about winning with analytics. 

Here are five of the biggest analytics lessons learned from the big game:   

1. Get the Jump 

Most experts agreed that for Denver to pull off the upset, they needed to get off to a fast start — and they did just that. The Broncos scored on the opening drive and led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter. Striking first was especially crucial against a Carolina team that had ambushed opponents early in its two playoff wins leading up to the Super Bowl. But Denver turned the tables on them, taking the early lead and never looking back. 

In the advanced analytics game, getting the jump on your competition is equally important. Whether you’re applying advanced analytics to optimize a business or manufacturing process, predict customer behaviors, or uncover new market opportunities, being the first mover among your competitors is critical. 

But with analytics racing up the list of investment priorities for CIOs and business leaders alike, the window of opportunity to be that first mover won’t be open forever. The time to act is now. As it did for Denver, getting the jump can make all the difference.

2. Win on the Edge 

Many factors contributed to the outcome of the game, but the single biggest reason Denver scored the upset over Carolina was that it won on the edges. Denver’s edge pass rushers dominated the game. In fact, the game’s two defining moments came courtesy of sacks off the edge by game MVP Von Miller. The Panthers simply had no answer for Denver’s speed off the edge. The Broncos won on the edge, and won the game because of it.

Much like a strong edge pass rush is a must-have capability for defenses in the modern pass-happy NFL, analytics at the edge is quickly becoming a must-have capability for businesses in the modern IoT-influenced data landscape. 

The massive growth of IoT infrastructures and the edge devices that comprise them has made it inefficient — and in some cases, just plain illogical — to transport all data back to a centralized core for analysis. Successful analytics initiatives will instead be that those apply predictive models and run analytics directly at the edge — at the source of the data. This not only eliminates the effort and expense required to transport data, but it allows for immediate action to be taken in response to insights. 

3. Improve Upon What’s Already Working

Two off-seasons ago, despite already having a good pass rush, Denver signed free agent defensive end Demarcus Ware. Ware teamed with Miller to turn a good pass rush into the league’s best pass rush. Similarly, despite already having a strong secondary, the Broncos signed free agent cornerback Aqib Talib, and drafted cornerback Bradley Roby. A good secondary become the league’s best secondary. Those two defensive units carried Denver in the Super Bowl.

Learning Opportunities

Just as Denver’s front office used free agency to bolster areas of its team that were already strong, so too can companies leverage advanced analytics to improve business and manufacturing processes that are already working well. 

Perhaps the biggest misconception about advanced analytics is that it has to be applied to something new or something that’s not working. That’s simply not the case. Most companies have solid processes in place that can still benefit from the application of predictive analytics. As the Broncos proved, sometimes the best thing you can do for your business is to find something you do well, and invest in the resources needed to do it even better.

4. Change Your Culture 

Two years ago, Denver boasted what was arguably the greatest offense of all time, led by arguably the greatest quarterback off all time in Peyton Manning. But after falling short in the Super Bowl two years ago, and then failing to get back to the big game last year, Denver changed its culture. 

Out of necessity, it began to rely more heavily on its defense and its running game. Realizing that his skills had become limited by age and injury, Manning — the team’s unquestioned leader and arguably the league’s biggest star — didn’t stand in the way of this cultural shift. In fact, he embraced it, adopting a conservative, mistake-free style and letting his great defense lead the way. 

As it pertains to the world of analytics, the lesson for business leaders is clear: Cultural change is necessary if analytics initiatives are to succeed. Business leaders must embrace the reality that data-driven decision making is the way forward. Analytic insights are of little use if business leaders aren’t willing to let them guide the way. Manning embraced a new way of thinking and won the Super Bowl as a result. Imagine what it could do for your business.

5. Don’t Dismiss Intuition

Despite mounting statistical evidence suggesting that Denver was better off with Manning on the bench, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak trusted his instincts and experience, and put him back into the starting lineup for the playoffs. Three wins later, Kubiak is a Super Bowl-winning coach. 

The takeaway for the world of business and analytics is that great leadership still matters. Advanced analytics can do a great many things, but the one thing it can’t do — the one thing it was never intended to do — is take the place of great leadership. 

Businesses, like football teams, still need great leaders to guide them down the winning path. But put a great coach together with the right players, as Denver did, and you get a champion. Put a great business leader together with the right analytic insights, and you might just get the same.

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