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The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. This was a phrase coined by Clive Humby way back in 2006, and it’s been repeated and paraphrased ever since.

The age of ‘digital transformation’ has in many ways come and gone – no business will survive that doesn’t manage and use its data to their advantage. Companies that successfully harness this valuable asset will be the only ones that will innovate, grow, compete and stay alive in the coming decade. If raw data is oil, then data strategy, management and governance is the refinery and analytics and insights are the combustion engine.

Leading brands are already harnessing the powers of data to better serve customers with advertising, to provide faster and more efficient customer experiences, to ideate and create brand new product lines and and to build better workplaces. Data can hold the key to revenue maximisation, cost and risk minimisation and provides so many opportunities across emerging areas like robotic process automation, machine learning and of course, AI and Gen AI.

Webinar: Developing your data culture

This content was first discussed in depth during a recent webinar with Gate One and Louise Braithwaite of the National Innovation Centre for Data. You can watch the full session for a deep dive into the topics discussed below here.

Businesses are already working towards becoming data-driven

In the last four years companies are less inclined to suggest that they are competing on data and analytics and more likely to suggest that they have created a data driven organisation.

But is that really true?

The number of business executives who say their Big Data initiatives have delivered value.

The number of people we polled who are only at the stage of investing in Business Intelligence solutions and setting up Data Analytics and Data Science teams.

What are the root causes of Failure?

Lack of awareness on how to access data

Lack of data collaboration

Lack of skills to interpret or use data for decision making

Having to rely on a centralised data team

Data insights misaligned with business needs

Lack of confidence in data

Leaders preferring gut-based decisions

No incentives or recognition to use data for decision making

Value generation from data does not occur during the production of data insights. Value generation occurs from the consumption of data insights.

To ensure that data is continually consumed and managed effectively, we need a mature Data Culture

A data culture is the collective behaviours and beliefs of people who value, practice, and encourage the use of data to improve decision-making. As a result, data is woven into the operations, mindset, and identity of an organisation. A mature data organisation has data running through it.

The terms “data-driven” and “data-driven culture” are often used interchangeably, however there is a subtle yet a significantly important difference between the two.

Being data-driven refers to the practice of making decisions based on data. This means that you collect data, analyse it, and then use the insights you gain to make decisions.

But this is not guaranteed to drive autonomy, empowerment, accountability, collaboration, delegation or proactive use of data for optimisation, innovation and any form of decision making.

You can force people to use data, you can have the best technology, state-of-the art dashboards to inform decision making in real-time. But that does not mean, that they will be utilised at the right time, by the right person to make the decisions, that people that are supposed to use them, will actually understand what these insights mean, and worst of all, even if they do, that the insights from these solutions will be reliable.

Having a data-driven culture goes beyond simply making data-driven decisions. It is a way of thinking and operating that is based on the belief that data can be used to improve decision-making, processes, and outcomes. In a data-driven culture, everyone in the organisation understands the data, understands the importance of data for decision making and is therefore empowered to manage its quality and use it to make better decisions.

A data-driven culture is a key enabler for you to become data-driven, and arguably it is the secret sauce without which becoming data-driven is impossible.

Characteristics of a data culture can be seen in four areas:

  • Data leadership – required to push the above and related initiatives, but a data leader must clearly understand the value of data
  • Data search and discovery – related data stewardship ensure workers can find the right data, which is fundamental to extracting value from data.
  • Data governance – defines how data should be gathered and used and requires a surrounding structure and support.
  • Data literacy – data consumers the confidence and understanding needed to use data effectively but typically requires a dedicated change management effort.

So it pays to focus on data culture, but with a 2023 survey from Wavestone finding that 79.8% of executives view the biggest obstacle to achieving a fully data-driven enterprise as culture, people and processes, how do we get there?

Culture is How we do things around here

Culture about what you live, breathe and believe everyday and how that influences the behaviour of a group of people.

Behaviour accumulates over time to form norms and habits that tell us the unwritten rules

So, culture is made up of several layers that give us an indication of the rules of the game.

At the top level, it’s about what you see, for example whether data is built into your systems and processes. Then at the next level it’s about what you say, for example whether a level of data literacy is a requirement across all roles or just those with the data or technology labels.

But at its core, culture is really about the invisible layer, and that’s people’s mindsets and fundamental beliefs about data and the assumptions that then leads them to make.

This means we need to really question some of the underlying factors, for instance whether data is seen as central to the organisation, how data leaders are viewed in comparison to other authority figures, where funding is directed and what this says about organisational priorities and what sort of behaviours might be reinforced or encouraged and where people will turn a blind eye.

All of this gives us a view about the data culture of a business.

Why is culture difficult to change?

Culture is shared group phenomena – it is made from the shared beliefs, values, behaviours and assumptions, therefore is jointly defined and built. Culture becomes the responsibility of everyone, not the leadership team or HR department. So everyone needs to take responsibility for developing a data-driven culture, not just those with data in their job title.

Culture will develop whether it is actively cultivated or not – just like a parking fine, it doesn’t go away if we just ignore it. However, organisations can proactively choose to steer it and reinforce the desired data-driven culture.

Culture fills the silence in the strategy – where people are not given a clear directive, their assumptions about what is and isn’t acceptable in the culture will drive decisions and behaviour. If the culture is not aligned to being data-driven, these decisions and behaviours will not reflect to data priorities in the strategy. The strategy and culture must be pulling in the same direction to be effective.

Culture is self-perpetuating – culture will attract those with similar approaches to data, who in turn will be more likely to stay and be successful if their journey feels compatible.

Culture takes time – there is no magic bullet to change culture. Like keeping on track with new year’s resolutions or creating new habits, it takes time, consistency and reinforcement to bring about lasting change.

Five recommendations to embed data into your organisation’s way of working

Balance of trust and accountability

Move beyond top layer management information and democratise data access to empower your employees. Give each individual the data to make autonomous decisions at the right level.

Breaking silos and building collaboration.

Develop an organisational structure that fosters greater communication and seamless collaboration between your business and data teams. Help data become the connective tissue between teams.

High data expectations for all

Build good data quality habits by making sure those providing data are receiving it back in the form of meaningful insights and visualisations that make their lives better.

Commitment to realising the value of data

Leaders must lead by example to make decisions based on data. Recognise that the ambition here is not to be purely outcome led, but to develop a culture where decisions are based on data.

Curiosity and exploration

Share success stories and decisions made using data to drive more engagement, generate more confidence and increase your power of persuasion.

Priyesh Shah
Julie Brophy

Want to find out more about how to build an organisation with a mature data culture? Get in touch today.

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