Are We Working in Data Culture Heaven or Hell?
by Rob Cowell, Pyramid Analytics
I’ve learned that spending time with leading analytics experts is the easiest way to appreciate their challenges. In late January, I was fortunate to host a closed-door GB Intelligence Digital Boardroom roundtable with several UK-based CIOs and Data Leaders
I collected and anonymised their candid responses to shed light on one of their most enduring challenges: nurturing and orchestrating a data-driven business culture. To paraphrase them slightly, heaven is when every employee can tap into the same source of truth to make data-driven business decisions.
This heaven sounds appealing, but few data leaders are there yet. Hell may be putting it too strongly. However, many analytics teams regularly face obstinate stakeholders clinging tightly to data in their domain. Such obstacles not only perpetuate data silos but also undermine organizational trust in the veracity of the remaining data.
The discussion revealed the data leaders’ apparent frustration over the pace of cultural evolution required to support their strategic, analytic goals. However, it also underscored their valiant efforts to win over the data deniers in their midst.
“I’m in culture hell at the moment,” conceded one Head of Business Intelligence for a large professional membership body. “It’s quite a frustrating place to be,” she added, explaining that she gets “a lot of nods” but very little buy-in from “managers who think we don’t really need” a strong analytics program.
Carrots, Sticks and Culture
Persuasion can take multiple forms and the discussion touched on the benefits of gaining executive sponsorship and establishing centers of excellence for propagating data literacy at all levels of an organisation.
Timing matters, explained one CIO: “We are in an opportune moment here where we have a relatively new CEO who has a new strategy signed off by the board. Data reigns supreme,” she added, and “we have an absolute opportunity lever to engage with the business on that basis.”
With executive approval, it becomes easier to pry data from recalcitrant managers with a combination of carrots and sticks. One carrot gaining traction: providing a data concierge, someone who can help business teams analyse and curate available data. It sounds like extra work, but the idea appeals to analytics teams because it can help foster data literacy.
One Data Governance Manager at a well-known manufacturer and retailer said he’s halfway between heaven and hell in gaining executive support to achieve the objectives of a data-driven culture. He’s found that his natural allies in this quest are on his firm’s legal and financial teams. “Just getting two sides of the business that have carrots to align with the side of the business that has sticks,” he said. He wants to tell those still on the fence about cooperating: “Wouldn’t it be great if [you do], but also, if you don’t, here’s the impact that can have.”
Don’t Force Culture
If you can’t get the desired executive sponsorship, there’s always the next best step, which is to find the friendliest executive and gain their buy-in by equipping them with a valuable tool, such as self-service analytics. As they attend business meetings armed with incisive charts and data, they will model the culture that you seek to propagate. At the very least, it’s a solid first step.
Leading by example helps and winning converts takes time. A data-driven culture won’t flourish because of a sternly worded memo. Fortunately, these analytics experts understand they’re waging a long-term campaign to align data strategy and culture.
Of course, once you finally unify all the data from every organisational pocket, the onus is back on your analytics team to deliver powerful insights. As one delegate succinctly put it: “There has to be an equal amount of effort on insight generation as well as on collecting data.” Once you can deliver valuable insights on a consistent basis, the organisation’s culture stands ready to embrace the value of making empirical, data-driven decisions.
Pyramid Analytics is purpose-built for companies ready to embrace a culture that values and uses analytics for ongoing business success. Contact us to learn more about how a centralised solution can help you and your employees take on the challenges of the day, every day.
Rob Cowell is Principal Technologist at Pyramid Analytics.