by Mala Anand

How a data-driven culture enables innovation and empowerment in an adaptive enterprise

Apr 10, 2017
Cloud ComputingData CenterEmerging Technology

How to make the most of the data that fuels the digital economy and drives business transactions.

digital leadership gap primary
Credit: Thinkstock

Data is the fuel for the digital economy and is at the core of driving insight-driven business transactions—from decision-making to cross-departmental collaboration. Organizations deal with an abundance of data across the enterprise, creating an opportunity to deliver insights and drive material outcomes to gain a competitive advantage.

For example, automobile companies rely on consumer, competitive, financial and market data to determine which new features and technology to add to next generation cars. In the hospitality industry, marketing teams model consumer behavior data to personalize offers for guests. Farmers leverage data to determine the best times for planting crops, fertilizing and irrigating their land. Even healthcare organizations rely on data to define standardized materials and surgical instruments for the operating room.

In each of these scenarios, insights from data are driving increased sales, reducing operational expenses, generating higher crop yields, and improving customer service or patient care. Collectively, these insights are driving outcomes with real, actionable impact on businesses and people’s lives. 

Reaching this inflection point starts with companies committing to redefining their businesses and creating a data-driven culture. That culture can take hold when companies establish three goals: break down data silos, empower the team to explore data, and engage teams through leadership.

Data needs to be socialized. To break down data silos, companies are transitioning from isolated data platforms designed to support a business unit or role to centralized platforms with multi-team access. This technology shift is synergistic with today’s cross-department, design-thinking collaboration strategies. Instead of groups maintaining their own work styles and dedicated to discreet projects, companies are forming diverse teams made up of individuals from different groups and backgrounds that share expertise and knowledge. This type of culture strives to make the knowledge held in their data and the people in their organization, hyper-collaborative and communicative across the company.  Customer purchase histories, addresses, and demographics, for example, aren’t only available for sales and marketing. Other business groups and project teams can access this valuable CRM data for their unique purposes, and they can manipulate and test business and operations data.       

Once data is free from silos, data-driven cultures work together to empower their teams. The thinking behind this goal is that employees working in marketing, finance, supply chain, and every other group have first-hand knowledge of the business processes in their groups. Their in-the-trenches experiences make them the best source for engaging with the data and pushing it toward creating better business outcomes. These teams, working under a comprehensive data governance plan, need centralized analytics tools that let them interact with the data. A platform that enables assigned levels of access and role-based security keeps data-driven cultures within the defined governance outlined by IT departments. Most importantly, this modern-day approach is infinitely faster than previous models when a data query was sent to IT and a report would appear weeks later. A data-driven culture lets a non-expert query and manipulate the data and visualize the results immediately.

Executive support separates these cultures from traditional businesses. In a data-driven culture, managers encourage employees to interact with the data and take action. Teams have the freedom to take action fast, review and respond to the results. It’s understood that not all results will be positive and that learning comes when results are both good and bad. What’s important is feeding data into models and supporting an iterative process so that business decisions and outcomes become more precise each time.

In tandem with this support, data-driven leaders rely on dashboards in their day-to-day activities and they share the data behind the company’s business decisions and the results. This leads to transparency around changes and shifts in the businesses. When the leaders showcase data as a hero, others in the organization will follow suit and begin immersing themselves in putting data to work.      

Realizing an adaptive enterprise

Once these changes are underway the possibilities are endless. Companies can break into new markets, pursue a demographic that they always craved, or create business models built around untapped existing assets. Data will manifest itself in unexpected ways, as businesses become more empathetic and aware of their customer’s needs. Under Armour, for example, created apps tied to Fitbit for its exercise-centric customers. Once a company is able to put itself in the shoes of its customers it can create service models and products that cut costs, create efficiencies and improve customer engagements.

That insight to empathy is only possible in an adaptive enterprise, which is derived from a data-driven culture. Adaptive enterprises respond to customers, partners and market changes in real time based on insights from data. To stay ahead, they constantly ask: What did we do today? Where have we been? Where are we going?

Adaptive enterprises answer those questions through a mixture of reports, or bimodal IT, as Gartner refers to it. One set is the familiar, core business reports that business analysts email out every Friday, for example. Adaptive enterprises add in a second set of reports that is more experimental and agile. They look at marketplace activities, including tests, trials, and theories that are shaking up the industry and causing disruptions. Adaptive enterprises integrate these two modes to gain a common view across the business. From this central platform, teams throughout the company can test and hypothesize, productize and operationalize by manipulating the data. They cycle through multiple tests and iterations, always pouring the learnings back into the business.

Data scrubs in at Mercy

Mercy, a longtime pioneer and advocate for quality healthcare, has traveled this journey from traditional healthcare organization to a data-driven culture and realized awards on the way. The St. Louis-based center recently won the HIMSS Nicholas E. Davies Award of Excellence, which recognizes healthcare organizations that use health IT to improve patient care while reducing costs, and it is a first place winner of the 2016 SAP HANA Innovation Award.

Millions of patients visit Mercy’s 43 acute care and specialty hospitals hoping to find pain relief and feel better. What these patients are unaware of is that their caregivers at Mercy are not only trained in the latest healthcare procedures, they are also taking advantage of the organization’s data to drive better outcomes.

Data sets from electronic medical records, financing, and business processes are available for every group to run tests against, giving Mercy greater visibility into variations of clinical care for patients experiencing heart failure, pneumonia or undergoing surgery. Opening up the data and empowering its employees to iterate has led to $9.2M saved by eliminating or minimizing the use of certain surgical products, reducing variation in surgical protocols, and establishing best practices across surgical departments to ensure quality in postoperative results for patients.

What is happening at Mercy and other data-driven organizations can be replicated. Of course every organization will have unique challenges, but each can leverage this blueprint of breaking down silos, empowering the team, leading by example, recognizing possibilities, creating an adaptive enterprise, and iterate, iterate, iterate.

The future is data and it is driving business outcomes from the boardroom to the operating room—and everywhere in between.