Anthony Devassy has 17 years of experience in the areas of Data Governance, Business intelligence, and Analytics and is currently the Principal Industry Consultant at SAS India. He specialises in conducting Data Management & Analytics Maturity assessments and providing thought leadership, frameworks, best practices, and innovation in the space of Data Strategy & Analytics.
There are numerous studies which have established a direct relationship between data-driven decision making and the impact it has on the output and productivity of an organisation. However, few organisations have been able to realise the desired value from their investments on data and analytics.
The fundamental reason for organisations struggling is because data is never treated as a Strategic Asset. While many organisations speak about it, few walk the talk.
People, Finance and Technology, are all strategic assets for an organisation, and there is a visible structure to how these assets get managed within an organisation. There are skilled people, robust processes, and sophisticated tools to manage these assets.
If there is concurrence on Data being a Strategic Asset, then it deserves all the interventions mentioned above. The road to realising value from data is rocky and muddy and would need you to have a 4 Wheel drive to overcome the challenging terrain. Lack of torque to any one of the four wheels will make your Data Strategy SUV slip and skid.
Wheel 1 – Building a Data Sensitive Culture
This is the most ignored area and ironically, where most companies struggle. A data-sensitive culture cannot be built or purchased overnight, and it needs to be nurtured and developed.
Executive sponsorship: If your leaders don’t believe in data being a strategic asset, it’s going to be difficult to expect others within your organisation to adopt a data-driven mindset. This commitment, however, must be demonstrated by more than occasional high-level decrees. In one of my previous organisations, the CEO was designated as the Data Champion, and through dedicated Data Council meetings there would be continuous engagement with the ground teams to share the vision and direction on the data discipline.
Data Organisation – Every organisation needs a dedicated team to bear responsibility for managing data as a strategic asset. This team would work with stakeholders across the organisation to build the right culture, develop people, monitor processes and ensure that the required technology is deployed. This team will ensure that all the Information Asset Management Policies, Principles and Standards are implemented. Lack of such a team will see the data agenda falling between cracks with every team running their own agenda.
Wheel 2 – People and Their Skills Matter
Change management is not a single person sport and needs the entire village to come together. To succeed with data, your employees will need specific data-related knowledge and skills. While you can undoubtedly hire people with data skills, your existing talent possesses valuable domain knowledge and expertise.
How can I make the difference – Educate people on how they can make the difference. A representation of how a data point captured within their work area impacts decision-making works best. Also, business users should be fully trained on the consequences that can happen when data isn’t adequately protected.
Link Data KPIs to Business KPI: Every employee in an organisation is driven by KPIs, and any activity that takes them away from those KPIs will never get done. Work with senior management to introduce Data KPIs in the framework which is used to measure employee performance. If there is a Sales incentive program being run within your organisation evaluate opportunities on some data quality metrics to be introduced in the overall program.
Citizen Data Scientist. Your organisation has many: Analytics is used to drive business decisions, and no one understands business better than the employees who are on the job every day. If these employees are provided training and coaching on how to access, process and present data using tools which are GUI driven there could be a lot of valuable discoveries that can be made.
Wheel 3 – Quit on Process, and You Quit on the Result
Having well established processes around managing Data will ensure, right habits are formed across the organisation and are extremely critical in sustaining the Data culture. Data management routines need to be embedded into the daily routines of an organisation for them to be adopted by the business.
Cadence drives behaviour – Ensure that there is a Data Governance Org in place where people from all work areas participate, and there is a predefined schedule for this team to meet. Decisions taken in these meetings are communicated to key stakeholders, and required follow-ups are made to ensure execution.
What gets measured gets done – A data health report sent periodically will get the attention from impacted business teams and provide the much-needed support.
Wheel 4 – Make It Happen Using the Right Technology
A lot of organisations do an excellent job at documenting all the data processes, but that is battle half won. If those processes are not executed using technology these would just be documents lying in one of your folders. For Eg. data definitions can be well documented but to ensure that the business accesses these definitions at the right place and right time, the right tools would need to be used. Also, on the other hand, organisations can accumulate a variety of data systems and tools for solving more or less the same problem. This siloed scenario can often hinder rather than help the development of a data-driven culture.
Strike the right balance between Choice & Control: Data, Analytics & IT teams want a lot of choices when it comes to programming languages, analytic techniques and deployment of the models. At the same time, they need controls to ensure sustainability, scalability and security. A lack of control would lead to chaos and lack of trust on data and on the other hand, too much control would see innovation taking a hit. Neither can be dominant in an organisation to ensure success.
The focus areas mentioned under each of the Wheel is not an exhaustive list, and many other factors help develop a data-driven culture. Developing a data-driven culture at your organisation is a long-term game and not a short one and ensure you play it accordingly.