Duncan McKay, business development manager at PBT Group
The focus on digital transformation and being able to better understand customer needs are pressuring companies to embrace data as an integral component of the organisational culture.
However, many decision-makers are under the misconception that this is something that will happen organically. They believe that if employees get access to data and innovative solutions, the organisation will become data-driven almost overnight. The reality paints a completely different picture.
Over the past two decades, IT departments approached vendors to sell them products they would use to build solutions themselves. However, the budget remained with business with the service providers having no real way of being able to integrate these two disparate areas.
Fortunately, this has changed.
Today, it is the business units approaching the providers and asking for assistance in making those same platforms work with the data at their disposal to fully unlock its potential. This provides the makings for the strategic and intentional move to become a data-driven culture. In this, there is an accountability to effectively use the products, tools, and solutions available to employees.
Putting in practice
Of course, from a practical perspective there are a few steps the business must take. If becoming data-driven is a strategic priority, the business can employ similar strategies to what worked in the past for different business-transformation journeys, even non-technology transformations.
The first critical strategy is to establish a formal mandate with senior leadership to adopt data-capabilities, and follow this mandate up with accountability by incorporating the required key performance indicators (KPIs) in each leader’s key performance areas (KPAs). In turn, this must link to and permeate through to the job profiles of all relevant employees on all levels in the organisation. The business must also create intentional and strategic initiatives to drive this. Part of this entails appointing champions such as the Chief Data Officer (CDO) to make it a tangible exercise.
The secondary and supporting strategy is to lean on HR support functions in helping drive an intentional data-driven culture change. HR Wellness capabilities are well geared for running internal awareness campaigns to generate hype and support for a strategic cause, so tap into this and leverage their internal marketing mechanisms such as emails and the intranet, awareness events and online education, for example.
Furthermore, most large organisations have an HR academy of some kind, which may be leveraged to help drive training and development. Management can engage with them to create a data literacy programme which will see knowledge workers embark on a specialised roadmap to become more data-aware and capable.
The trick is to make people excited about those activities. It sees instilling the notion that the business is data-driven and doing everything to help guide it become successful in that regard. And once there are business units who have already transformed into data-driven entities, the business must celebrate it and tell stories through awareness campaigns to build interest throughout the business.
Yes, there will always be challenges to overcome. An organisation cannot only create awareness and not provide employees with the ability to change.
This means the organisation must focus on more than innovation and making breakthroughs with data. It must underpin everything with ethics and principles of good data stewardship to foster a healthy – and not a maverick – culture.
Always remember, people might also be threatened by this new approach. For example, if someone has been responsible for creating a monthly report for the past several years and it now becomes automated, will their job be at risk? Resistance to change will be a key obstacle. But people must start accepting change as necessary for the competitive new world.
This does not mean that the business should simply allow a free-for-all when it comes to data policies. It must focus on the process level to ensure that the data-driven culture enforces robust governance and management mechanisms that enforce healthy data practices. Investment in controls such as data quality and master data management become foundational in ensuring reliability and security of data. A data-driven ship, driven by poor quality data is bound to become lost-at-sea!
A data-driven culture is one that requires a significant rethink on the existing processes, systems, and approaches, and how they must be adapted to cater for a more innovative and agile enterprise. However, industry disrupting enterprises like Amazon and Uber has already proven the potential competitive advantage proper data-driven organisations can achieve. So, while the “How” of becoming an intelligent enterprise may seem overwhelming now, take courage in the predecessors that showed us: It’s not impossible and it’s well worth the effort!