Becoming truly data-driven with the right culture

In the digital economy, data is the driving force of progress.

Yet as companies continue to ingest large amounts of data – from hundreds of different sources – they continue to face internal obstacles that can stall productivity and innovation. Siloed departments, complex cloud environments and the variety of data sources and types make it more difficult to find a single source of truth. Nearly 40 percent of data professionals in our recent survey admitted they don’t fully understand how data is being used in their organisations. And on top of that, 44 per cent find it challenging to deal with the diversity of types of data they work with. All factors which, taken together, are making it harder to make data available in a format that is useful for analytics.

This suggests that while businesses may have the right tools to extract, transform and load their data, the process must be supported with a strong, internal data culture for it to be truly effective. Internal communication and embedded principles relating to the management of data, and metadata, play a crucial part in determining how effectively employees in an organisation understand and use data in their roles. Ultimately it all comes down to making data more usable – even for non-technical team members – and requires different lines of business, beyond the traditional data team, to buy into a modern data architecture; one that uses the latest technologies and approaches to empower business users to do more with their data.

There are three actionable steps leaders can take to instill a strong data culture: create a common language across teams to overcome barriers, establish how data impacts the business’ bottom line, and showcase the value that various business units beyond IT are bringing to end users using data. So let me unpack this process and explain how it can help to unleash the power of data for all.

Mutual understanding and alignment

No matter where teams are located and what role they fulfill within the organisation, having a shared understanding of where data originates from and how it’s being used is non-negotiable. When enough people across the organisation are using shared datasets, a centralised data catalogue that anyone can contribute to helps to democratise those trusted datasets and extend their reach even further. Making the switch from a process-oriented mindset to a data-oriented mindset is the first step to developing this more data-centric mentality.

At its heart, it’s a step-change that boils down to starting to value data over processes, and grant teams access to data that will improve decision-making. Proactive efforts to explain to employees why data-centricity is important to business success, and how it impacts their roles, should be at the heart of that process; it will only foster a strong data culture if everyone has understood why they use data from multiple, trusted sources.

The diverse impact of data

The concept of a ‘data culture’ also serves to dispel the myth that only those who manage the demand for refined data can handle and understand it. Many (if not, all) roles within a business can generate and act on valuable intelligence in their own unique ways. A marketing executive, for example, can take advantage of audience behaviour insights to augment team efforts, but also react by fulfilling customer needs more closely and providing more personalised experiences. But it’s ultimately the leadership team’s responsibility to use data that’s been transformed from its raw state into an analytics-ready format to make stronger, data-driven decisions that make a measurable difference.

One way to encourage this is for business leaders to actively call out the impact that data is having across teams, and how it’s helping them to level-up their work and results, at all points of the value chain. Openly communicating the value of data analytics that’s being realised beyond reporting teams will reaffirm the power of data for the benefit of the wider business.

Informing customers’ business decisions

From making processes more cost-efficient through to faster fulfillment times, data can be the source of multiple, positive impacts on the customer. Yet its greatest value lies in its ability to inform business decisions and ensure they’re based on genuine insights, as opposed to instinct. There’s already countless evidence that those companies who adopt this model stand a much greater chance of defining a competitive advantage. A global report from McKinsey for instance found that data-driven companies are 23 times more likely to acquire customers and 19 times more likely to be profitable and successful than their counterparts.

We know that the complexity of dealing with different data sources can hinder both productivity and the speed at which data flows within a business. But think about how overwhelmed teams can then feel when it comes to fulfilling their deliverables, too. Any break down in the value chain could have repercussions on the bottom line.

Teams can prioritise different items for the end user if they learn to work in smaller increments. Small process improvements like this might seem insignificant, but even the smallest change helps deliver more meaningful value to customers and showcase what the organisation can achieve. All of which contributes to wider efforts to build a more coherent data-driven culture.

Change the way your business thinks about using data

As organisations strive to make their data useful, the first step on that journey should be to look at their team. An entire company needs to be on board and share a mutual understanding of the different impacts of data to overcome barriers in communication and any friction. There’s a common misconception that once a business has migrated to the cloud, everyone automatically becomes more productive. But more than simply updating hardware and software, data culture and data literacy require a shift in how organisations think about using data. Change must come from the bottom-up, in a collaborative effort to augment a data-centric culture and ultimately increase business value for the business.

About the Author

David Langton is VP of Product at Matillion. Matillion is The Data Productivity Cloud Matillion helps teams get data business-ready, faster — acceleratingtime-to-value and increasing the impact data can have.

Featured image: ©Anatoly Stojko

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