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DataIQ Leaders briefing – How do we ensure data keeps its seat in the big conversations?

How can data offices and data leaders maintain their position at the table for large organisational conversations? In recent years, data offices have worked hard to establish their value and legitimacy, so how can this continue now that data is a regular part of beard discussions? A recent DataIQ roundtable discussed the different ways that this can be achieved.
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The value of proving data value 

The fight for data offices to highlight their benefits and capabilities to wider parts of organisations has been a regular feature of data-centric debates over the last few years and the hard work is starting to pay off. Roundtable contributors all spoke about their own experiences with the data office becoming more involved with high-level discussions and even being a part of business strategy development. One member from the insurance sector explained that they had aligned their business and data strategies. The member explained that their data team was “trying to align with the business’s financial cycles” to demonstrate data’s value. The member said the organisation has quarterly forecasts and financial planning, so the data team was working to align its value story to that financial cycle “so that there is a single view of the impact and the value of data, and that data is not completely disconnected from the business cycle.” 

Following this, the insurance member then asked “how do we ensure that we embed the strategy? How do we ensure that people are taking data seriously, and that it is as important to the rest of the business as it is to us?” The table agreed that continuing to prove value and demonstrating use cases for different departments was the best way to highlight data in a way that was understandable and useful. 

A member from the banking sector described how their data office has “been focused on the value piece” of data delivery and that they have created some “really good examples of where data has directly translated into business growth or increased bottom line.” This was expanded upon by a member who described how in a previous position in the aviation industry their focus was on demonstrating the return on investment for the technology being used. The way in which value is disseminated by the data office needs to be understandable by those who do not live and breathe data, but, as one member of the roundtable pointed out, “some of the work that data does gets so oversimplified [for those outside of the data office] it can sometimes minimise the true value and the complexity of the data.” This of course is detrimental to proving the value and the difficulties of data, but a balance needs to be found between making the data accessible and understandable whilst accentuating the intricacies and technicalities of data.  

One contributor raised their concerns about a scenario where data may get forced off the agenda if data offices stop storytelling and selling their wins to other departments. Another member from the B2C market replied, “I don’t think I am worried about whether data will be pushed off the agenda…data is too valuable to organisations to get pushed off an agenda,” highlighting the organisation-wide benefits that data can bring. The onus now falls onto ensuring that non-data departments do not lose sight of how valuable data can be, which means data professionals must continue pushing data’s narrative and demonstrating its value through stories and use cases. Another member added that their team is achieving this by focusing on local levels and project-by-project examples of quick data wins.  

It was noted by most participants that examples with a monetary value are the easiest to demonstrate data value, but there are plenty of times that seemingly non-monetary examples can be worded to show financial benefits. For example, one member from the insurance sector explained, “we were able to demonstrate that data can improve X amount of time spent on certain tasks,” but it took converting that metric into an economic one (ie, the cost of staff hours) to get specific departments to take notice. A contributor stated, “we need to always link it back to something that the business needs, something that the business wants, and be able to prove the changes that we’re making through the insights provided as a data function of delivering the business strategy.” Linking data capabilities directly to the core tenets of the business strategy alongside economic statistics was agreed to be one of the most important ways of highlighting long-term value in data. 

Maintaining an audience 

Once you have the attention of decision makers, how do you retain it? Being involved with all conversations is one method to continue a connection with a decision-making audience. A member of the roundtable told the group that they altered internal operations “to have data engage right at the start of every single project as a compulsory sign off element…and be at the executive table to approve any changes.” This is easier to implement for organisations with mature data operations and an executive team that are fully engaged with data, but much more difficult to do for organisations – particularly legacy businesses – that are early in their data journeys and have just built a data office. There are sceptics at multiple levels of businesses, particularly legacy ones, that require convincing of data’s value and may need longer to get on board with investment plans and new data-driven strategies.  

Upskilling is key to encourage people to engage with data, develop a stronger understanding of what it can achieve and get involved with wider conversations about data plans. A banking member of the roundtable told the group about their “10 skills for the jobs of the future” initiative which is all about upping data skills and improving organisational data literacy. The team identified core data skills and how these impact future roles before addressing all 60,000 staff and pinpointing areas for improvement. This also doubled as a great way for the data office to communicate and collaborate with all areas of the business. 

Data offices need to be aware of their impact on other departments. As one maritime member pointed out, “It is a delicate situation, because you don’t want to go in [to other departments] aggressively and dictate mandate, because they’re not our team – but they require data skills, and they use our data products.” This plays into developing levels of respect and camaraderie between departments and making sure enough understanding and empathy is shown from the data team to other areas of the organisation. Once the data office is shown to understand other departments and respect them, the same will be returned.  

Personal lives can also play a part in the delicate balance of engaging an audience and dictating to them. A data team leader from a utility provider marketplace explained that they would be leaving for an extended period for parental duties. Their concern is that once some of the major projects are complete, “the interest in continuing to focus on customer data will wane” and they have been doing their best to push that agenda to the team. They elaborated that they are feeling “out of control because [they are] not going to be around to have those conversations” with key decision makers and their team for several months. To remedy this, the members of the roundtable explored the use of pipelines and their importance in maintaining long-term mindsets that can withstand a change of personnel. Building a pipeline takes time, and the business culture needs to be accommodating of pipeline timelines, but the long-term benefits of a pipeline can help a business withstand staff changes, expansion and sector-specific development.  

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