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Measuring doesn’t make you taller

20th April 2021

Author Alex Waleczek

What does it take to create a data-driven culture?

Being data-driven is a focus of most companies these days. In my conversations with clients in recent years, nearly all our discussions have revolved around how they could use data more effectively to make better decisions, faster. It makes sense; being data driven essentially means making evidence-based decisions, and who can argue with that? (But on the flipside, how have companies survived for the last 100 years, though, if they haven’t been evidence driven?)

After spending the last 20 years talking about (big) data, one would assume that most companies are able to make data-driven decisions and build a data-driven culture. In reality, though, most companies I have seen struggle. A recent survey found that 99% of companies surveyed invest in data and AI capabilities, but less than 25% consider themselves data-driven. The survey doesn’t go into detail of what “data-driven” actually means and whether a tendency to overestimate your own maturity may mean the actual number is even lower than that.

Regardless, the trend is clear: Companies want to be data-driven but they struggle to achieve this goal.

In my experience, that comes down to how most companies approach this transformation to a data-driven company. Generally, it’s accepted that you need two things:

  • Data (the arguable consensus is: the more the better)
  • Systems (a platform that promises to help you become data-driven by using it)

That, however, is just the beginning! You won’t gain any value from your data just by putting an analytics system on top of it. You will need processes to make sure your data is reliable and consistent and – even more important – people who are able to access the data, have the skills to work with the data and see the value in doing so.

You’ll also need a culture that supports being data-driven! A culture where leaders are happy to be challenged based on the data that is available. A culture that values “It looks like I was wrong” more than “We have always done it this way!”


Change is enabled from the top but enacted from the bottom

Shifting a culture is likely one of the hardest things you can try doing. It moves slowly, involves everybody and actions only show results months down the track. And, quite confusingly, the more forcefully you try to change a culture, the more it might resist.

A better way to influence this change is to build a framework that allows for change and to provide tools that enable it. Building an environment where people have easy access to data, can share insights easily, have a common understanding of what data points mean and where everybody trusts the data is the foundation for a successful cultural shift towards a data-driven company.

This means two things: taking control of the data and giving it away at the same time.

Firstly, your data needs to be governed! Having data flow through multiple Excel workbooks with manual intervention and transformation causes a lot of headaches and potentially exposes all aspects of the organisation to risks; from wrong assumptions that influence a minor business decision to incorrect figures for regulatory purposes. Instead, data needs to be owned and provided by functions that ensure and maintain the integrity of it. They determine what can and can’t be done with it based on the input of the business and make sure it is fit for purpose.

At the same time data needs to be freely accessible (with some exceptions based on privacy laws etc.).  Employees need to be able to access the data they (might) need, when they need it. Not weeks later after working through approval processes and waiting for the development of a report.

That might sound radical, but why wouldn’t you let your employees access the data they create and work with every day, anyway?


Get people to ask questions of your data

Any employee in your organisation might have a hypothesis on how to increase sales, reduce churn, etc. but if they need to figure out where the data is, seek approval to access it, wait for IT to extract it, find somebody to explain how to use it and then test the hypothesis, I can understand how they would refrain from it; especially considering that they may have wasted everybody’s time if the hypothesis fails.

Making these datasets available with a few mouse clicks reduces a lot of frustration and enables your people to verify assumptions and test hypotheses within minutes.

Furthermore, having your whole workforce actually use your data will very quickly improve the quality of it. If measures are missing, people will ask for them. Quality issues will be raised and if inconsistencies occur, you can be sure they are found much more quickly when everybody is using the data, as opposed to only a team of a few selected analysts.

In both cases, you can instantly attribute value to this shift in culture. You save your employees time on administrative tasks that they can spend on more high-value ones, you may gain insights you were unaware of that may positively influence your business and you will improve your data which reinforces the value of data-driven decisions.


How do we get there?

There is no shortcut to change a culture and/or become data-driven; it takes time and conscious effort. The reality is that most businesses run on “Shadow BI” processes, without any governance, that only apply to a small part of the business. Often, they utilise Excel workbooks but now that more and more companies use Tableau, PowerBI, Alteryx, Snowflake (etc), these platforms are increasingly used in the same way.

None of these platforms inherently protect you from customised KPIs and hidden workflows that filter out arbitrary records. They are tools that provide capabilities; how these capabilities are used is up to the organisation or the individual analyst.

Tableau released its Blueprint framework a few years ago in order to provide guidelines and ideas on how to become data-driven. This involves all aspects from the data and platform to usage of assets and the development of staff. It’s a comprehensive set of tools that can be adjusted to an organisation’s needs and helps to think about becoming data-driven in a more structured way. Initially, you might find this too comprehensive for what you are trying to do but the beauty is that you can choose the aspects that promise the most value to you, and later on you can decide if you want to apply other parts of the framework as well.

It is not a secret weapon that will transform your business overnight, but it is a helpful guide to build a basis on which a data-driven culture can flourish.

If you would like to learn more about how to transform your business and become more data driven or if you are interested in Tableau Blueprint in particular, get in touch with us. We’d love to talk.


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Alex Waleczek is Davanti’s Practice Lead – Analytics. 

In his role he is responsible for all things data. Having worked as a consultant with Tableau in the analytics space in New Zealand for the last six years, he is very familiar with the problems companies face when trying to make sense of their data and how to solve them to bring our clients closer to their clients. When he is not working on Tableau for Davanti, he is blogging privately about all things data and hiking New Zealand. You can get in touch with him via our contact form, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Alex Waleczek