14 Aug 2020

Tips for Creating a Data-Driven Culture

Learn how to empower your team to use data to drive business value without overwhelming and deterring them.

Data is a short four-letter word that can reveal a lot of value. Creating a data-driven culture is the holy grail of unlocking that value.

The myth of data-driven cultures says business' can be transformed by looking directly into data and then magically predict the future with it. The truth of data-driven cultures can be the exact opposite.

Creating a data-driven culture is a complex interplay between the data collected, how people work with it, and what business problems are considered worth solving.

Data Strategy author Bernard Marr says data-centric cultures happen when data is recognized as a key business asset and is used to improve the business.

“There's no doubt that the shift to a data culture must be driven by those at the top and cascade down through every layer of the organization,” he says.

So where should a business start?

Slowly, slowly is how to build a data-driven culture

Filtered Media CEO Mark Jones says digital by definition is data-centric, so many digital businesses already have a foundational culture to build from.

Helping people see the benefits data can bring is the first step towards building a data-centric company culture, where people are keen to explore data as they do their work.

He argues the best customer insight tools are now free, and most people can play around with Google Trends to see how their business or products are searched online.

Another insight tool that businesses can use without cost is Answer the Public, which lets you enter a search term to see the questions people are actually asking around that term.

Big data can be scary for non-technical people, and make people nervous about feeling exposed or that the data might reveal they aren’t doing the right thing.

A great place to start a data-centric culture is to engage key leaders in developing a small data strategy and start implementing it.

Ensuring managers become data advocates creates a trickle-down effect through the business, but seeing those managers use and refer to the data regularly is what will have everyone referring to the data.

Data science lecturer and author Alex Scriven says business people in finance, human resources and marketing find all sorts of interesting things in data once they are able to access it and explore the data themselves.

“I have seen successful data cultures built by making self-service tools available and encouraging, and training, people,” he says. 

Small business projects, company hackathons and training are all useful to bring different departments together around data.

For businesses who want to leverage their own data like customer insights, sales volumes, availability data but don’t have the expertise in-house, it can help to bring in a professional contractor who can clean, structure and secure the data while making it accessible to others.

A data professional can create self-service dashboards - usually in platforms like Power BI or Tableau - for other business stakeholders to access in much the same way Google Analytics is a free tool that allows people to explore as they wish.

It’s then up to business leaders to empower everyone to use the data regularly.

The two big practical challenges to driving a data-centric culture are:

  1. Whether to centralise all the “data stuff” within a data or engineering department
  2. Balancing open access to data with privacy and security concerns.

Good data practices should mean data is anonymised and securely shared with business stakeholders as they need it, rather than locking it away in a data warehouse that no-one can use.

NSW Government Data Scientist Ian Oppermann says valuable data assets can be created by joining different datasets. For example, overlaying weather data with sales data can help businesses understand whether people are likely to buy more or less on rainy days.

This type of work needs to be done by skilled analysts or engineers, which risks siloing the data expertise rather than decentralizing it to take root throughout other business departments like marketing, social media or communications.

CSIRO Data 61 Principal Research Scientist Surya Nepal says people make a mistake thinking that data is all about technology.

“Computer hardware is designed by people, software is designed by people and our users are people,” he says. It is people who will drive technology adoption and outcomes, not the technology itself.

Saying a business has a data strategy and actually executing it with real human beings and a culture of data-led decisions are two different things.

Looking to upskill in Data Driven marketing? Here are our recommended courses from ADMA IQ:

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