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It’s no secret that organizations are awash in data, and yet still struggle to realize business value from their data. Data-driven insights are key to successful digital transformation, and leading industry analysts note that the value gap often comes from a lack of data culture across the organization.
To outperform your peers, you need data-literate, data-driven people — in short, you need a data culture. Establishing a data culture for your business is like adding probiotics to your body — it can help organizational health in measurable ways.
5 ways data culture helps businesses
Growing and maturing your data culture provides:
1. Preventative medicine for “black swan” stresses
As every organization has learned over the past few years, world-changing events such as regional conflict, pandemics or extreme changes in climate add challenging levels of volatility to future planning. Establishing a data culture ensures your teams are ready to use predictive and prescriptive analytics as early warning systems for rapidly changing conditions.
Data culture helps prevent extreme shocks from these events by ensuring the insights needed for rapid go-to-market and supply chain pivots are ready, and can be acted upon.
2. Performance boosters for competitive pressure
Industry analysts note that organizations with a mature data culture get a health boost for their business. Across multiple dimensions of health, including customer satisfaction, time-to-market, employee productivity and profitability, data culture leaders see significantly greater improvement than laggards.
3. Access to nutritious data for decision support
Data-driven insights are food for innovative, optimizing businesses. By developing and maturing your data culture, every part of your organization has more access to these ingredients, and can make data-driven decisions with confidence.
And companies that lead in their use of data-driven decisioning outperform their lagging peers. As reported in the Sloan Review, nearly 50% of data-driven leaders exceeded their business goals in the past 12 months, compared to a mere 22% of laggards.
4. Life extension via business resilience
Business longevity everywhere is in long-term decline. Research by Huron shows “the 30-35 year average tenure of S&P 500 companies in the late 1970s is forecast to shrink to 15-20 years this decade.” This trend is expected to further accelerate, in part, because the past is no longer reliably predictive of the future.
Strategy and decision-making traditionally have been based on historic experience, historic data, and “gut feel” — in the “new now,” those sources are, at best, less relevant, and at worst can lead to catastrophic missteps. Business resilience is more robust in these changing times when decisions derive from real-time data streams, and artificial-intelligence-infused predictive and prescriptive analytics. But it takes a data-literate organization to take advantage of these disruptive technologies.
5. Risk reduction for ESG and compliance
Organizations with a mature data culture not only gain a competitive advantage in our “new now,” but they also are better prepared to manage risks. As data-driven decision-making grows in maturity, the number of data sources and varieties of data consumed by analytic processes increase.
AI-infused automation can further enable insights and innovation at scale. But with complex workloads and processes comes opacity, and that opacity can lead to unforeseen, inadvertent bias and privacy risk. A data culture makes it easier for technologists and business partners to work together on transparent, well-governed, auditable processes.
5 best practices for cultivating a mature data culture
In much the same way that a probiotic culture is dynamic, growing when it’s supported and shrinking when not, an organization’s data culture is also dynamic and needs cultivation. Here are some best practices that will help.
1. People: Identify and empower your employee champions
Widespread data-driven decision-making is one key benefit of a mature data culture, and it starts with empowered people. Employee champions are like probiotic boosters for a healthy data culture — a few champions can help create pervasive culture change.
First, identify those employees in each department who have demonstrated an interest in or proficiency with reading, working with, assessing, analyzing and arguing with data. Empower them by providing continuous training; enlist them in peer-to-peer training for their colleagues; recognize and reward them by tying their leadership to career development and company spiffs. Develop company-wide data literacy baseline metrics and quantifiable goals, and make these part of your organization’s objectives and key results (OKRs.)
2. Processes: Widen the circle of stakeholders for data-centric and AI-related projects
Within your data and analytics workgroups and centers of excellence, instantiate data culture as a strategic differentiator. Use cross-functional and cross-departmental teams to define near-term and long-term metrics and milestones. Set quarterly reviews of the progress made that will be shared company-wide. Partner with HR to support formal training and internal certification in data literacy skills.
3. Technology: Increase access to self-service data analytics for business users who’ve been trained
Identify which self-service technologies will empower business users to make better decisions through data, and which data must be prioritized to enable those technologies. Pilot those self-service approaches with your employee champions, and iterate / “train one to train many” to extend the value.
4. Data: Increase access to governed, trustable data to support key data culture initiatives
If one such initiative is to enable self-service insights for sales leadership, what data will be needed? If another initiative is to measure the impact over time of data culture, what metrics will matter, and which data is needed to support that effort?
Data is fuel for innovation and optimization — to get the benefit of a data culture, you need to give your champions access. A key enabling approach is through master data management (MDM) technologies. As noted by Daniel Newbern, senior director for enterprise projects at SunGard, “MDM is providing stronger reporting for business organizations, as well as for executives and corporate groups. It’s going to allow them to make better business decisions related to operations and customers. And the time needed to generate requested information has significantly decreased.”
5. Orchestration: Use orchestration and prioritization to speed time-to-value
By prioritizing focal areas where data-driven decision-making will have the highest value, your company can more efficiently orchestrate the people, processes, technologies and data needed first. As you orchestrate, you’ll find unexpected friction points. These early discoveries will help you address blockers and dependencies that slow progress, not just for your initial data culture projects, but for long-term data-driven success.
In short, if you could do one thing today to help your business thrive, I’d suggest exploring how to mature your data culture.
Lori Witzel is director of research at TIBCO.
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