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Key data leader challenges in 2024: Part one – Foundations

DataIQ's Research Analyst, Rachael Pimblett, shares the findings on what data leaders feel will be their main challenges in the next year, presented in the first of a four-part article series.
Data leader challenges are discussed at DataIQ events.


The first in this four-part series refers to foundational practices in data. Data operations can only operate maturely if they have strong foundations. Most of this foundational conversation can be summarised in the relationship between two concepts; culture and literacy. Data culture refers to the extent to which an organisation has a thriving, collaborative data community and a data-first mindset across the business that impacts key business decisions.  

David Reed, Chief Knowledge Officer and Evangelist, DataIQ, describes data literacy in his book Becoming Data Literate as “a mindset that makes sense of the organisation, its market and customers through the use of data, combined with behaviours that share data definitions, assets, language and ways of working.”  

This research shows how both literacy and culture remain a challenge for almost half of data leaders. Strategy pulls these concepts together alongside key business objectives, though only few leaders were worried about their strategy in 2024. Goal posts are confidently in place for most organisations; ensuring the right people have the right communicative abilities to get the ball in the net is the new focus for 2024. The need for a solid network and access to training has never been greater. 


Data Literacy (43.8%) 

Data leader challenges are discussed at DataIQ events.Organisations with a high data literacy maturity level share data definitions, assets, language, and ways of working; this has always been a big job for data leaders to enforce and own, and nearly half (43.8%) see this as a main challenge in 2024.  

Given that the pace of change in data and technology means that resistance and fear of change is another challenge we see in data and artificial intelligence (AI) adoption, having only around half of data leaders identifying data literacy as a key challenge seems low.  

Alex Jardine, Director of Analytics, Sainsbury’s, exemplified how business stakeholders are enmeshed in this literacy piece, and shared how he focused on literacy to stave off this resistance mindset: “We need to double down on business engagement to help build a shared understanding of the benefit our solutions can provide, but also be honest about their limitations. We also need to work collaboratively with business stakeholders to ensure we continue to drive the right customer and business outcomes as new capabilities are implemented.” 

Many membership organisations have used the DataIQ Data literacy for teams assessment to examine the different facets of data literacy within an organisation and tease out a comprehensive understanding of organisational data literacy maturity. This assessment enables data leaders to identify areas of weakness which limit and hinder wide-spread literacy and therefore helps data leaders, as Alex Jardine noted, “double down on business engagement” across the organisation to ensure a culture of high performance and data-driven results. 


Data leader challenges are discussed at DataIQ events.Culture (37.5%) 

Over a third of data leaders, 37.5%, noted their data culture as a main challenge for the coming year. Many responses alluded to the importance of imbuing the business with a data-first mindset, as data-driven businesses are consistently shown to be more successful and resilient than others.  

Additionally, those that did reference culture as a challenge also had their eye on the volatile data landscape by referencing change as a clear indication of whether the organisation is ready to act swiftly and receptively to challenges, predictable or otherwise. 

Abhishek Khandelwal, Managing Director and Chief Analytics Officer, Barclays, deftly made the connection between the challenge of spreading and enabling a data-first culture and organisational resilience clear: “With the ever-changing environment, my focus is fostering a culture where colleagues are comfortable with change and are able to continuously learn and adapt to different ways of solving problems, including by harnessing new technology and techniques.”  

It proves challenging to begin tackling the culture piece. Read DataIQ’s research report “Breaking down data culture – the ten pain points” for actionable insights to help you assess your current state and develop a roadmap for improvement. 


Strategy (18.8%)

Data leader challenges are discussed at DataIQ events.In terms of aligning business and data strategy, measuring and managing changes to strategy, and overseeing the formal development and maintenance of the strategy itself, a smaller portion of the data leaders expressed strategy as a main challenge (18.8%), which was lower than anticipated. This is possibly due to the comparatively high data maturity of the organisations surveyed, which means that data is more likely to already be viewed as a core strategic driver.  

As will be shown later, stakeholder management and senior business involvement was a common challenge; these conversations appear to be moving away from strategy and towards general priority and value-driven conversations. 

Tom Spencer, Head of Customer Data Science, Aviva Data, highlighted strategy alignment as one of his main concerns for the coming year: “Aligning data initiatives with Aviva’s overall business strategy is complex. However, it is essential for us to ensure that data is used effectively to drive business goals, specifically supporting our Chief Customer Officer. I also need to ensure we stay the course on longer-term data related investments that are required for the strategy but may not pay back immediately.” 


The next instalment of this article series will examine another aspect keeping data leaders up at night in 2024: people.


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