Foster A Data Strategy Around Literacy And Culture To Create New Business Value

Dion Hinchcliffe

Part of the “Enterprise Data Strategy” series, which explores the importance of leadership and accountability in directing an overall data strategy tied to business outcomes.

Many regard data science as the very future of business. The implication is that modern business competency is grounded in the attainment and use of meaningful insights culled from enterprise data. These outcomes can be either strategic or tactical, but for most organizations, they are the difference between leading an industry and becoming an also-ran.

Becoming data-driven, however, isn’t something enterprises can simply buy. Having the right technology is key. But achieving high effectiveness in data science across an organization requires proactively cultivating not only deep data literacy but a corporate culture that genuinely embraces data-driven decision-making and performance – from the line worker to the C-suite.

Compounding the challenge, organizations are ever more awash in data, where nearly boundless untapped opportunities lie. But these opportunities are inaccessible, more due to dearth of talent than having the tools to reach them. Because of the rise of countless data warehouses, data lakes, and increasingly vast database “estates,” now fueled by connected devices and other high data-generating sources, today’s enterprises are often drowning in this data. They are then unable to wield it effectively to meet their operational or strategic needs.

In short, to overcome these challenges and seize the urgent competitive opportunities, organizations must develop an enterprise data strategy. The strategy must be defined and infused into the organization by a chief data officer (or those assuming the role), supported by the leadership team, and realized in close conjunction with other parts of the organization. These teams must care about the outcomes (the lines of business) or can help deliver the supporting culture change (HR, corporate communications, and operations leadership).

The real challenge, therefore, is mostly not in the technologies or the growing volumes of enterprise data, but in the human skills, talent, mindset, and behaviors within the organization.

Consequently, data literacy is a cultural, education, and technology support topic of high urgency for organizations wishing to drive performance. Today’s industry benchmarks and emerging techniques now enable organizations to make data science literacy and a data-driven culture core not just to their data strategy but to their core business strategies.

Figure 1: Shifting culture and building skills for a data strategy is an enterprise-wide effort.

In fact, CXOs are clamoring for better understanding of everything from customer behavior change to cyclical challenges in their business. Data can unleash insights that allow strategic decisions to be made faster and every operational process to operate quicker, better, and less expensively. Consequently, data strategy must be fostered as a core plank of digital transformation.

However, if realizing data literacy and a data-driven culture were as simple as defining a vision, setting prioritizes, and identifying talent, then more organizations would be farther down the maturity path. Instead, several key roadblocks have to be overcome with real commitment.

Challenges to realizing an enterprise data strategy

When building data literacy and shifting to a data-driven culture, two primary obstacles must be overcome:

  • Dearth of data science skills/talent. The reality is that external hiring will be insufficient to ensure that the entire organization has the data science competencies required to have meaningful enterprise-wide impact. Demand today for data science skills greatly outstrips supply.
  • Untapped or inadequate culture change capacity. Most organizations aren’t activating the sufficient resources they already have to drive culture change (e.g., HR learning and development capabilities, onboarding processes, corporate leadership programs, change management initiatives, and change champion programs). Or they have not developed these resources to a level that is capable of realizing the change.

Both of these issues go directly to the heart of the challenge: Getting the right skills inculcated across the organization and shifting the culture to naturally make data science a prime driver – and the great improver – of the vital value streams that deliver results for the business across the enterprise.

How enterprises can develop a data strategy that delivers

There are four essential good practices for building literacy and a new data-driven culture:

  • Develop a long-term, all-employee data science competency program. Hiring those with sufficient data literacy already is an inadequate tactic. Instead, build a just-in-time learning capability that will teach data literacy at every level of the organization. Modern lightweight learning tools can help, and HR departments can be used to deliver the skills as part of regular employee onboarding and training, for example.
  • Proactively wield the culture change capacity that exists. In addition to HR, using existing communities of practice, tapping into enterprise social networks, and using corporate communications to spread the vision and message can all help. Cross-pollinating with existing change-management programs – or using their abilities in a fresh initiative to shift corporate culture – can have a significant effect to drive the necessary changes. The caveat is that they receive sufficient direction on the key aspects of data-driven culture to develop.
  • Create fresh new capacity for effective culture change. Creating a center of excellence (CoE) or a corporate initiative are proven ways to dedicate new resources required to create the desired change in culture. Other good candidates are enterprise-wide communication programs, storytelling capture and sharing (of notable examples of the new culture to spread), and other engagement strategies like community management and so-called “culture hacking.”
  • Leadership involvement with supportive change champions/agents. Executives and influencers in the organization can greatly accelerate the shift towards a more data-driven culture by sharing their support, walking the walk by explaining how they are doing it, and helping those who are trying to create more data-driven capabilities across the organization. Data strategies should include senior leadership, as well, up to and including C-level officers, to maximize the speed and effectiveness of the effort.

Today, a data strategy is as much about people as it is about technology. Recognizing this and proactively taking advantage of it will result in a much more effective spread of data literacy as well as a results-oriented and data-driven culture across organizations.

For more information

You can find Dion Hinchcliffe on Twitter at @dhinchcliffe.

And please listen to the replay of  “Pathways to the Intelligent Enterprise” Webinar, featuring Phil Carter, chief analyst at IDC, and SAP’s Dan Kearnan and Ginger Gatling.


Dion Hinchcliffe

About Dion Hinchcliffe

Dion Hinchcliffe is currently ranked as one of the top data science experts in the world. He is a best-selling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and strategy expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently VP and principal analyst at Constellation Research. You can find Dion on Twitter at @dhinchcliffe.