I recently presented at SQLBits 2022 on the five steps to creating a data culture. We are helping our clients predict their future by unlocking the power of data, in doing so the organisational attitude is something I’ve experienced as a differentiator to success. When the initiative is technically led there is a push from IT wanting to get a project off the ground, but the rest of the business hasn’t come onboard for the journey. When the initiative is business led there is a pull of demand that IT needs to recognise and deliver against to help the business leaders meet their objectives.
My client experience has taught me a lot and I’d like to share the key takeaways with you in this blog series to help you succeed when adopting a data-first mindset within your organisation. This will be a 7-part series so keep your eyes peeled for the next part soon!
What I’ll cover in the series
Part 1 – This introduction: How do you know if your business needs to adopt a data culture?
Part 2 – Taking a closer look: Defining company culture
Part 3 – Learning fast: Starting small and iterating
Part 4 – Working at pace: Avoiding fear of failure
Part 5 - An education: Changing the way staff use data
Part 6 – Examining progress: Driving change
Part 7 – Conclusion, implementation tactics and assistance.
Let’s get started – how do you know if you need a new data culture? Think back to your own projects and ask yourself the following questions:
Does this resonate with you? If you came to the same conclusion, that a failed project was not due to the project itself, rather the alignment to business outcomes, you’re not alone and there are considerations for you to make. These familiar obstacles for project success can be overcome by creating a data culture in your business.
Let me put come context around this, let’s look at some stats from an executive survey about Data and AI from NewVantage Partners.
When I was reading this research, the statistic around the rate that companies have appointed a dedicated data officer struck me:
- 73.7% of organisations surveyed have appointed a Chief Data and Analytics Officer (CDAO), up from 12.0% when this survey was first conducted in 2012.
…and this stat about the barrier to success:
- For the fourth consecutive year, over 90% of executives believe culture is the greatest barrier to business outcome.
- Only 8.1% cite technology limitations as the primary impediment.
A successful data culture is something that the whole business needs to be open to and embrace, but most importantly it must start from the top of the organisation and trickle down to the other teams. The executive sponsor must take the lead and set the tone, expectations, and vision for the whole business.
In my next blog we will take a look at this in more detail, but think of the executive sponsor as a conductor in an orchestra – what would the impact be on the orchestra if the conductor was not there? The conductor provides the coordination and harmony across all the sections of the orchestra. This is what a business would be like without their executive sponsor taking the lead – a number of teams conducting their day-to-day job with no long-term plan or strategy to follow. I think you will agree, this is not going to create harmony and lead to success.
Let’s take a look at a business use case which demonstrates this further:
I recently engaged with a business who had a new CIO, the CIO asked me to talk to stakeholders in the business and the Analytics team to help him understand their needs and gaps. What I discovered was a highly motivated analytics team, working hard to produce their best work using the latest technologies. They were highly skilled and delivering good quality work. However, when I spoke with the directors of the business it became apparent that their objectives, intent and needs had not been considered or prioritised by the analytics team. This was leading to all sorts of frustration, for example, users were being asked to test reports that were not relevant to the work they were doing.
I reported this back to the CIO and we came up with a plan. We setup a workshop with all the directors to discuss data strategy, data culture and how successful data projects run. We also discussed the importance of change management because we will need their teams engaged and prepared to adapt the way they work for the board to see the value of the project. This was well received, and they agreed who was going to sponsor this project.
The director who took responsibility as executive sponsor shared their business plan and strategy; this gave me the context I needed to understand how we could align data to their business needs. We agreed a plan, priorities, and a regular Steering Group meeting agenda along with the attendees. We created a comms plan to the whole business and agreed how progress would be reported.
Within a few months the changes were clear, the users were appreciative of the work being done, they were changing their behaviours and providing clear and concise feedback and submitting new requests. The analytics team were seeing that their work was valued and felt empowered to make changes that aligned to the business goals and priorities.
There were obviously a few hurdles along the way, and it was hard for some members of the team to see the benefits of the changes. However, the strong alignment between the Board, the champions within the business community and the analytics team led by the executive sponsor helped keep everyone together and driving towards the greater good.
Check in next time for part two where I’ll share the first step of creating a data culture – Taking a closer look: Defining company culture.
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