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DataIQ Leaders briefing – Embedding data into your corporate DNA

Most organisations have come to terms with the importance of data and analytics. However, without a defined strategic roadmap to facilitate the pivot towards data, transformations can be ineffective. At two DataIQ Leaders roundtables conducted in July 2021, members discussed the best methods for embedding data into their organisational structure.

Members agreed that simply demonstrating the wonders of data to the business doesn’t quite go far enough. Data teams need to be tactical when selecting use cases and winning over executive advocates to help promote data and drive its incorporation into business strategy.

Aligning data with the business strategy

An organisation’s ethos is typically rooted somewhere in its business strategy. These can range from wide-reaching aims such as being a “good global citizen” to more specific aims like reaching net-zero carbon emissions. Data can play an essential role in achieving strategic aims, however generic or specific those aims might be. However, data’s role is stifled when it is seen as adjacent to those aims, rather than core to them.  

DataIQ research shows that just 40% of organisations within the DataIQ community have their business and data strategies fully aligned. There is progress to be made.

One member said: “Data should be part of business strategy rather than behind it. Making sure data isn’t an afterthought is key to getting data into the DNA of an organisation.” This is a virtuous cycle for both the data team and the broader business. With data at the core of business strategy, the use of data shifts from being reactive to proactive.

Through the use of data and analytical tools, organisations can orient themselves to be ahead of the curve on customer needs, rather than responding ad-hoc to issues as and when they arise.  Securing investment for proactive data exercises can be difficult, however, as the ROI might not come for months or years, which could put off any myopic CFOs. Weaving data into the business culture can help to overcome this hurdle, as data becomes an expected foundation for any project, rather than an added extra.

Getting tactical

While data literacy rates are improving, your average business stakeholder still isn’t going to have a particularly advanced knowledge of analytics. Trying to engage the business in understanding the success of a complex statistical exercise is likely to lead to either disillusionment or boredom.

This is where data teams need to get tactical. Simple use cases can have a huge impact, particularly when the business can clearly see, and understand, how data helped to solve an issue. By speaking to the business, data leaders can identify key pain points throughout the organisation and try to work out solutions to them.

Many of these may be one-off exercises that aren’t particularly useful in terms of the long-term development of the data team or the data strategy. However, by solving a relatively simple issue, an excitement can be created which will make securing organisation buy-in to data projects easier in the future.

One member explained that: “When I first came in, I spoke to the business to identify the most talked about paint point. It wasn’t particularly difficult for us to solve, but because it was such a common issue we gained a lot of credibility, which secured us advocacy further down the line.”

Another member explained that they have used retroactive valuations to highlight data’s impact: “We ask business units to measure what the outcome of their project would have been without data-driven insights.”

These tactics can be taken one step closer to the dark arts if data teams use these simple use cases to create competition between business units. One member said: “By identifying a use case that you can hook onto business unit value you can create a buzz. Where one business unit is excelling through the use of data, another will become jealous and quickly want your time.”

Owning the process

To embed data into the DNA of a business, data teams need to be prepared to be the driving force behind that change.

This can be difficult for data professionals who are often more comfortable with spreadsheets than they are with people. Soft skills are increasingly important for data teams looking to maximise the impact of their work. DataIQ research shows that 41% of organisations are investing in soft skills development for the data department, primarily as a means of overcoming poor data consumption throughout the business.

One member commented that the key to driving the acceptance of data throughout their business was getting the team to be “shameless”. They said: “It may get slightly tedious, but you’ve got to bang on when something was done that couldn’t be done without data foundations. Your team needs to stand up and say ‘without data quality we couldn’t have achieved this – this is why you paid for all of this’.”

Similarly, data teams would do well to make themselves easy to approach. By being approachable, the business will be more open to co-operating with the data team at the onset of project, rather than bringing them on board six months down the line, risking work being scrapped due to oversight of issues that the data team could have easily flagged.

In an ideal world this would be avoided by having the data team represented within the C-suite, typically by a CDO. “This means that data howlers aren’t approved by the board in the first place,” said one member.

Saying no is in itself a soft skill. Sometimes there will be projects that just aren’t feasible, maybe because they’re against policy, or because they won’t show a return.

Data teams can avoid gaining a reputation of being the ‘department of no’ by doing what they can to maintain excitement within the project, even when saying no. Taking time to highlight possible workarounds, or simply explaining why a project won’t work can go a long way. Doing so will also help to raise the data literacy and awareness of those involved. Involving those same stakeholders on achievable projects can then foster a culture of engagement.

Key takeaways

  • Data strategy and business strategy are one in the same. Data teams and the broader business suffer when data is seen as adjacent to strategic aims, rather than core to them. Strive to marry the two.
  • Get tactical. By identifying high-value, low-expenditure business issues to solve, data teams can build a reputation and gain advocacy.
  • Be shameless. Data professionals might not be natural show-offs, but highlighting the successes of the data team to the business is essential for raising awareness and encouraging engagement further down the line.
  • Be approachable. Navigate the politics of saying no and encourage the business to engage with data at the onset of projects.

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