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How to build an effective data culture in your organization and beyond

culture de la donnée

Alongside technology and processes a data-driven culture is key to embracing data democratization. We explain how you can create a data-driven culture in your organization, the pitfalls to overcome and best practices to drive success.

Anne-Claire Bellec
VP of Marketing , Opendatasoft
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Organizations increasingly see the benefits of sharing and reusing data internally and/or externally. Greater use of data inside a business delivers better, more informed decision making, and higher levels of innovation. Externally data experience sharing builds trust and transparency with stakeholders, whether businesses or consumers, and drives growth and closer collaboration with partners.

Enabling this data democratization requires a mix of the right technology and the right processes, such as around governance. However, you can put in place a strong data technology stack, collect large volumes of relevant information and make it available, yet find that it is not being shared. Why? Essentially because your organization lacks a data culture that empowers everyone to create and benefit from better data experiences.

Culture is essentially how things are done within an organization – it is the unwritten rules for how people operate and work on a day to day basis. As the name suggests a data-driven culture is one where information flows freely between different departments and is central to how everyone operates. For example, decisions are made based on studying the available data, rather than on gut feel or because “that’s how we always do it.” There’s a high degree of collaboration based on data, with teams working together united by key objectives such as improving the customer experience or generating greater innovation. The overall mindset is open and curious, looking at how data can help solve problems in new ways.

On the face of it, a data-driven culture sounds like something every organization would aspire to. For example, research from Forrester Consulting found that businesses that rely on data to make decisions are 58% more likely to beat their revenue goals than non-data driven companies. 83% of CEOs surveyed by IDC want their organization to be more data driven.

However, creating a data-driven culture can be challenging – just 25% of organizations in the IDC study were classed as having a data leading culture. 56% of companies surveyed by Opendatasoft said their lack of a data culture was an obstacle to carrying out their projects. There are four main reasons behind this:

  • Organizations are typically made up of departments handling specific processes (sales, finance, marketing etc). Often they have their own data silos and ways of working and don’t see the need to share data or collaborate with others.
  • The data that people have access to is limited or out-of-date. If people don’t trust the information in front of them, then they simply won’t use it.
  • Allied to this, people may not have the data skills they require to properly engage with data in complex business intelligence systems. That means that they have to rely on business analysts to create reports for them, adding time to the process and divorcing them from the data itself
  • Finally, changing any culture is hard. People are normally wary of anything new that disrupts their routines and how they operate. So the default behavior is to reject change and stick to what people know. They see the downsides, not the potential upsides.

All of this means that data democratization goes beyond technology and processes. It doesn’t matter if the CEO launches an amazing new self-service data portal. If no-one sees its value to them, then they simply won’t use it.

So how do you create a data-driven culture and ensure you spread data use across the organization? In many ways it is similar to any other change management project – you need to involve your people at all stages, show them the benefits and give them the confidence to embrace data. These best practice ideas will help turn data vision into data reality:

Educate on the importance of data

We all use data every day in our lives to make decisions. We look at the weather forecast before deciding what to wear or if we should take an umbrella when we go out. Educate everyone in the company, at every level that data is important. Olivier Thereaux of the Open Data Institute defines data as “how we measure what we care about, so that it enables better decisions.” Explained in this way, data is not just numbers in a spreadsheet or points on a graph, but relevant and personal to all of us as individuals in our work and daily lives.

Link data to corporate objectives

Organizations that successfully harness data perform better. For example, according to McKinsey high-performing organizations are three times more likely than others to say their data and analytics initiatives have contributed at least 20 percent to revenues. Link building a data-driven culture to your overall corporate objectives, emphasizing from the top down how it will increase innovation, boost productivity, and make the organization more competitive. This commitment from the top has to be sustained and constant – it mustn’t be seen as just the latest management fad.

Show employees what it means to them

It is easy for CEOs to announce impressive data strategies, but to drive real adoption, data culture has to be bottom-up as well as top-down. Each employee has to understand how it helps them do their job better and faster if they are to put the vision into practice. Therefore, run regular roadshows where you talk to different departments and teams. Demonstrate what data is available and listen to their needs – what datasets would make a difference to how they work? Focus on particular use cases that deliver value. That will get their buy-in and get them on board with the new culture.

Give staff the skills and access they need

Data is not just for technical people such as data analysts. The whole point of data democratization is that it can be accessed and used by anyone to create value. So ensure your data portal has the right data on it, is easy to use, and can be accessed through self-service without requiring specialist support. Take the time to train people on the basics to build their confidence and ensure they feel comfortable using data on a day-to-day basis. One good way of involving staff is by recruiting data champions from around the business. They provide a bridge between technical teams and frontline staff and can interpret and demystify data for their colleagues, driving greater interest and adoption.

Building a data culture is vital to realizing your data democratization vision. It is therefore crucial to invest the time and resources required to engage your people and turn them into active, educated data users if you want to drive data democratization within your business and beyond.

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