Diversity Is the Heart and Soul of a Data-Driven Culture

Whatever market or industry you’re competing in, your success or failure is tied to cultivating a culture that brings data talent, tools, and decision-making together.

Successful digital transformation requires not only high-velocity innovation, but also the willingness and ability to disrupt yourself. Success requires a culture that brings data talent, tools, and decision-making altogether in unison.

Not surprisingly, a recent NewVantage Partners’ survey found only 28% of enterprises report they have a data-driven culture. But what exactly is a data-driven culture? In its simplest form, a data-driven culture involves bringing together diverse perspectives in an environment that facilitates the use of data in all aspects of the business.

If you’re successfully able to establish a data-driven culture, teams are able to make better decisions faster, develop a deeper understanding of customers, and, most importantly, deliver new digital services, and drive a better customer experience than your competitors.

While technology plays an important role, this is not a technology problem. As one Gartner article quotes: “The data can only take an organization so far. The real drivers are the people.” The following are six steps to establish a data-driven culture that empowers employees with the resources and skills they need to leverage data for business innovation and growth.

1. Architecting a data-literate workforce

Data literacy is the new language for enterprise IT. Individuals need to bring the right level of critical thinking and introspection to data and know how to use data effectively in their work. It’s more than knowing how to use a certain set of data tools; it’s knowing how to leverage that data for the outcome you want.

Being able to read a dashboard may be the first step, but data literacy requires combining a much deeper understanding of the data you have with the ability and desire to explore that data in new and creative ways.

2. Connecting data to business outcome

If you know that you want to leverage data in your business but don’t know how, it’s tempting to adopt a “build it and they will come” mentality under the assumption that you’ll figure it out later. But you can build the best data lakes and hire the best data science teams only to spin your wheels for years, generating useless or misleading conclusions.

Instead, tie any data activity to a concrete business outcome, and assemble the right team of people who understand that outcome, the underlying data, and the models and analyses to be employed to deliver the result.

3. Establishing data accessibility for greater collaboration

If a data set exists but no one knows how to access it, does it actually have value? Data teams need self-service access to data—the ability to discover and use relevant data without having to be dependent on anyone else. If they can’t find it, or if it takes weeks to work through the ticketing process, they’ll have to compromise and put the outcome at risk. And it’s not just one team; if teams don’t have the ability to communicate and collaborate with other teams around data, they’ll never be able to bring together the diverse perspectives that are critically needed.

4. Building trust in data

Lack of trust in data can be a pernicious problem that undermines any effort to be a data-driven company. If the data isn’t clean, accurate, and validated by diverse stakeholders, companies risk eroding trust—and hampering their efforts to create a data-driven culture.

5. Building an ethical data strategy

Any data company must be a good steward of data. Whether it’s customer data or sensitive business data, companies have a legal and ethical responsibility to limit exposure and risk. Every employee touches data, and companies must infuse a privacy-first mentality into any decision to access, copy, or share data. This starts by establishing guardrails that limit the opportunity for employees to stray into risky territory, but must be complemented by a culture and processes that enable anyone to ask and understand the answer to the question: Is my use of this data ethically sound?

6. Fostering inclusion in the workplace

You can bring all the diverse perspectives you want to the table, but it won’t matter if no one is listening. An inclusive data-driven culture is one that encourages experimentation, presents new ideas, and challenges long-held beliefs. More good ideas for consideration yields better outcomes. Studies have shown that simply being in an environment where you know different perspectives exist inspires people to prepare more, work harder, and do a better job presenting their conclusions.

Once you’re started on the journey to building a data-driven culture, here are ways it boosts an organization’s ability to innovate better and faster, and outsmart competition. 

Fast, high-quality decision making

Inevitably in business, you’re going to be making tons of decisions— anything from your investment strategy to product placement in the retail store. Historically, organizations used to make those decisions based on either very limited data, or instincts and experience. But if you’ve really instilled a data-driven culture, you’re able to make higher quality decisions faster because you eliminate all of the “what-ifs.”

Data-driven insights

In today’s world of AI and ML, the amount of insight you gain from your customers can change your business. If you’re able to deeply understand your customers and their buying behaviors, that information is not only a mechanism to micro optimize your revenue, but it can also yield new insights to help you make better decisions as to how you market and sell to your customers.

New digital services

The next step is taking all the data you have to deliver a better experience to your customers and disruptive opportunities to the market. Consider the banking industry. Your bank was cutting edge if it had a website 20 years ago. If a decade ago you had a mobile app that people could use to deposit their checks remotely, you were ahead of the game. 

In 2019, it’s a totally different playing field. Companies are looking to radically personalize the banking experience, with everything from real-time fraud detection, AI-powered personal investment chatbots, and radially new forms of personalized lending. All of these require deep knowledge of your customers and expansive data sets that can power the next generation of software.

Looking ahead

Every company is a data company, and whatever market or industry you’re competing in, your success or failure is tied to how you leverage data in all parts of the business. By establishing a true data-driven culture, individuals and teams within your enterprise can make better decisions faster, can have a deep understanding of your customers, and can, in turn, deliver new digital services and drive a better customer experience than your competitors.

Simply put, you’ll be able to beat your competition, build out differentiation, attract and retain the best talent, and make the most efficient use of their capital. This is a challenging problem to solve, and creating a data-driven culture does not happen overnight. At the end of the day, becoming data-driven has to be a people transformation, but don’t neglect the technology and processes needed to make that possible.

From real-world data transformation stories to confessions of the worst kept secrets from enterprise teams, explore all the stories in the first issue of Data Company Magazine.