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How Executives are Nurturing Data-Driven Business Cultures in 2021

Data ownership, securing company-wide buy-in and data literacy emerged as key priorities for data-focused executives during the 2021 Business of Data Festival’s sessions on ‘data culture’

Data-driven business cultures rest on strong foundations of data governance, company-wide buy-in and organizational data literacy, according to industry experts at the inaugural Business of Data Festival.

Nirali Patel, Director of Data and Analytics at network provider Openreach, said taking stock of the company’s maturity in these areas was one of the first things she did when she joined Openreach in November 2020.

“Operationally, we’re really data-driven,” she said. “Now, it’s about moving toward really using insight-enabled transformation.”

Sameer Rahman, Director of Insight and Data Science at the UK’s Royal Mint, added that having the right technical infrastructure in place is essential for an organization to establish a data-driven business culture.

However, he conceded that technical infrastructure is not enough to establish one on its own. To achieve that goal, data-focused executives must secure a mandate from the C-suite to put the key foundations Patel identified in place.

“Does data have a veto power? Does it have an elusive seat at the table?” Rahman asked. “You have a have a senior level data sponsor.”

Balancing Data Access with Data Ownership

The first thing an enterprise needs to do to enable staff to use data in their decision-making processes is provide them with access to datasets they can use to uncover valuable insights.

However, the speakers at Business of Data Festival 2021 agreed that executives must do this in a way that couples the data platform they use with effective data governance, data ownership and security processes.

Vijay Venkatesan, Chief Analytics Officer at health insurance firm Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, noted: “Part of this conversation is to really say, ‘How do we explain the value of doing those quality checks [and] those enforcement measures?’”

“For too long, we were expecting our BI team to know what a marketing rep wanted”

Simon Jones, VP of Sales and Customer Operations, Cision

For Simon Jones, VP of Sales and Customer Operations at cloud-based PR and comms platform Cision, the key to empowering staff with data successfully has been to adopt a ‘hub and spoke’ model that pairs centralized data governance with decentralized data ownership.

“We have our central team of BI, who are responsible for the aggregation, for the cleaning, for the maintenance, for the authentication and the approval of datasets,” Jones explained. “But then they cascade that down to experts within the business units.”

“We’ve found that to be a really effective way to both scale the workload [and] also to ensure that, when people are reporting on metrics, they’re using the right data,” he added. “For too long, we were expecting our BI team to know what a marketing rep wanted.”

Promoting Data-Driven Decision-Making

Executives from across the globe agreed that promoting data-driven decision-making within an organization must start at the top. But the end goal is to establish data ownership policies across the organization.

Having executive sponsorship makes it easier to secure budget for infrastructure investments. But when the executive team is bought into the idea of being data-driven, their demand for quality data will also help to drive better data ownership in the business units downstream from them.

Matt Minor, Head of Group Data and Analytics at health supplement company Blackmores Group, said focusing on executive-level data adoption first in this way was pivotal to the success of his data strategy.

He said: “A lot of focus needs to be given at the top level, to give the executive teams comfort that they can trust the data and that the data is giving them insights that they wouldn’t be normally able to get.”

“Then, it comes down to data ownership,” he continued. “People need to own the data and treat it like the asset we all know it is.”

Blackmores Group has been laying the foundation for its data strategy since 2017. Now the organization has its core data governance and management infrastructure in place, its priority moving forward will be promoting the use of advanced analytics tools.

This will involve building on that initial executive sponsorship to provide the same high-quality data sources to staff across the organization. Minor cited the work of one analyst in the company’s supply chain unit as an early success story these efforts have generated.

“Suddenly, we’re pairing [their] domain expertise with actual data,” he said. “He’s actually found the root cause to a KPI miss, solved it [and] put in place the systems and process changes to make that happen, and has seen results within a month.”

When Data Leaders Should Focus on Data Literacy

Promoting data-driven decision-making beyond the executive level means upskilling staff across the enterprise. This will ensure everyone can to work with data-driven tools effectively.

“[People are] an absolutely critical component of your data strategy, and it’s something that we often forget about,” said Maritza Curry, Head of Data at financial services company RCS.

For Carl Lambert, VP, Chief Analytics Officer at National Bank of Canada, building company-wide data literacy should become a priority for data-focused executives once the C-suite is fully bought into the data and analytics project.

“Are the executives able to embrace analytics and change their behavior?” he asked. “[And] do the mid-level managers feel supported by the executives?”

“People are eager to learn. We just need to give them the opportunity”

Carl Lambert, VP, Chief Analytics Officer, National Bank of Canada

Lambert argued that one key indicator that a company is ready for organization-wide data literacy initiatives is whether executives are asking ‘complex questions’ that ask analytics teams to explain business outcomes, rather than simply describe them with data.

He said an effective change management program will include data fluency training for stakeholders throughout the organization.

This will typically include data literacy training for executives and the end-users of data-driven tools. It may also mean running data storytelling or communication courses for analysts to improve their soft skills or more advanced courses in AI to train ‘citizen data scientists’.

“What works the most, I would say, is the ‘lunch and learn’,” Lambert said. “We have one or two ‘lunch and learns’ every single week on different topics, for different levels, and we have more than 100 people every single day that we have a conference.”

“People are eager to learn,” he concluded. “We just need to give them the opportunity.”

To catch up on all the insights top data and analytics executives shared about how to create data-driven business cultures at the 2021 Business of Data Festival, browse all the festival sessions on-demand here.