Experts agree: A data-driven culture starts at the top

Leadership teams must be data evangelists – but the entire organization will need the right training and tools for putting the data to use

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No matter the analogy about data — that it’s the lifeblood, fuel, engine, or new oil — business leaders have little doubt about its importance to driving decision making and delivering business value.

The challenge for many leadership teams is that not everyone in the organization shares that vision of data’s power and possibilities. Often, they don’t embrace data for decision-making because they don’t have easy access to the right tools and license to explore data for ideas and opportunities.

A true data-driven culture “treats data as a strategic asset of the company by making data widely available and accessible,” writes Ishit Vachhrajani, enterprise strategist with AWS. “It focuses on capturing, cleaning, and curating meaningful data from across the business. It promotes frequent experimentation to learn and improve.”

So, what are the best ways for business leaders to create a data-driven culture? That’s the question we posed to the IDG Influencer Network, a community of journalists, industry analysts, and IT professionals who contribute their knowledge and expertise to the broader IDG community. Here are some key takeaways from their responses.

Start at the top

“Creating a data-driven culture starts at the top,” says Gene De Libero (@GeneDeLibero), chief strategy officer and head of consulting at GeekHive. “Senior leaders must become data evangelists, educating everyone across the enterprise about accurately collecting, managing, and sharing data internally and externally to create insights that drive daily decision-making for the entire organization.”

Several IDG Influencers echo that sentiment:

“Buy-in for a data-driven culture must come from the C-suite and other senior leaders in order to get buy-in from other departments. This top-down effect will set the example, and also create a standard that everyone across the organization follows.” — Deb Gildersleeve (@DebGildersleeve), CIO at QuickBase

“Data-driven culture has to be driven from the very top management. They lead by example, setting expectations that decisions must be made with the use of data. Such leadership can catalyze substantial shifts in company-wide norms.” — Alvin Foo (@alvinfoo), co-founder DAOventures

“The most important thing a company leader can do is not related to tech; it’s about the vision and how they best serve the needs of their customers.” — Noelle Silver (@NoelleSilver_), founder of AILI

“Focus on data-driven discussions, avoid hearsay or stories. If the entire leadership team starts using that approach, staff will soon focus on getting and using the data to make decisions.” — Martin Davis (@mcdavis10), CIO

Take practical steps to prep data

Next, turn to the data itself, says Ben Rothke (benrothke), senior information security manager at Tapad. “To create a data-driven culture, a company must know exactly what they are collecting and what they want from their data,” he says.

Other Influencers agree:

“We need clean and unbiased data coming from multiple sources, and technology tools that can capture data and display it in easy-to-understand formats.” — Arsalan Khan (@ArsalanAKhan), blogger on business and digital transformation

“Leaders must create data policies for different stakeholders. In order to implement data policies, lots of prep work needs to happen, including data profiling, stakeholder identification and education, regulations to business process mappings, API-first development practices, and investments into programs that promote data quality through better data tooling and pipelines.” — Sarbjeet Johal (@sarbjeetjohal), cloud leadership consultant

“Start with aligning data to project outcomes on day 1, not as an afterthought. You do this by working with your stakeholders and teams to cull down the data to what’s business critical and can provide actionable information to move your business forward.” — Will Kelly (@willkelly ), technical marketing manager for a container security startup

Democratize the data

Once data is captured, cleaned, and aligned, it’s vital to put it into the hands of people who need it to do their jobs more effectively.

“Make the ultimate end user of the data a critical player in the strategy,” says Frank Cutitta (@fcutitta), CEO and founder of HealthTech Decisions Lab. “Far too often the user says, ‘if you had only asked me first…’.”

Don’t just provide access, however; it’s important to teach users what to look for in the data, says Vin Vashishta (@v_vashishta), machine learning and AI strategist. “Many people are given the responsibility to make decisions but are never properly trained on decision-making principals,” he says. “Once people in the business learn how they should be making decisions, the role of data becomes obvious.”

Making the data available and accessible will encourage use and interactivity:

“Data-driven cultures only propagate when access to the data is both frictionless and meaningful. If systems make it difficult to gather data or metrics, they will not get widely used.” — Jason James (@itlinchpin), CIO of Net Health

“You need to create data transparency. Think visible dashboards in the office or in your intranet.” — Tristan Pollock (@pollock), head of community at CTO.ai

“Adopt these strategic postures: a culture of experimentation (test, validate, and fail fast in order to learn fast); and a culture of data democratization (empower everyone with ‘if you see something interesting in the data, say something!’).”  — Kirk Borne (@KirkDBorne), chief science officer at DataPrime

Making the data accessible to all users includes training on how to use it. The right training provides a better career path to individuals looking to upgrade their skills and remain valuable contributors to their organization. “As much as the CEO hypes tech and innovation, the fundamental reality is that rank-and-file employees must embrace the power of data and analytics,” says John Nosta (@JohnNosta), WHO health tech expert. “Machines won't replace people, but they will replace those who don't unlearn and relearn data's fundamental role in business and society.”

Helping hands

If your organization isn’t sure where to begin instilling a data-driven culture, maybe it’s time to bring in experts.

“A Chief Data Officer or CDO position should be established early on to oversee the entirety of data and to bring the team together as a data-driven culture so sound business decisions can be executed,” suggests Scott Schober (@ScottBVS), president and CEO of Berkeley Varitronics Systems Inc.

In addition, your technology ecosystem — all those partners that provide your data solutions — can help establish best practices toward the creation of a data-driven culture.

Learn more about ways to reinvent your business with data.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.