The 7 Qualities of Inspired Data Analytics Cultures

Data Analytics Cultures

Many pundits and analysts alike are extolling the virtues of a data analytics-driven culture. An organization illuminated in the glow of data analytics is sure to outpace all competitors, while devising the next wave of cool products and services. But, what, exactly, should a data analytics-driven culture look like? It’s important to be able to understand what it looks like before attempting the journey along an uncertain path.

Here are some observations from experts who have been studying organizations’ analytics cultures:

1. A data analytics culture encompasses all of the business – not just IT or analytics

“The complexity of the methodologies, the increasing importance of machine learning, and the sheer scale of the data sets make it tempting for senior leaders to leave it to the experts,” according to Helen Mayhew, Tamim Saleh and Simon Williams, in a McKinsey analysis. “But that’s also a mistake. Advanced data analytics is a quintessential business matter. That means the CEO and other top executives must be able to clearly articulate its purpose and then translate it into action- not just in an analytics department, but throughout the organization where the insights will be used.”

2. A data analytics culture is not static; expect many course re-adjustments and U-turns

It may take time, planning, experimentation and learning to move data analytics to the point where it is propelling the business. There needs to be an expectation of and tolerance for failure as analytic efforts are applied to business problems and opportunities.

3. A data analytics-driven culture has open and clear communications and messaging

Data analytics efforts shrouded in data science and statistical terms will often be lost on the business, and therefore not realize its full potential. “By failing to sell the analytics story, it’s difficult to get buy-in across the board,” says Gerhard Pilcher, CEO of Elder Research, in a recent webcast summarized by Joel Hans in RTInsights.

4. In a data analytics-driven culture, people are encouraged to constantly questioning assumptions and analytical findings

 A data analytics-driven culture isn’t just people and organizations blindly doing what the data tells them to do – it’s about, first, asking the right questions up front; and second, encouraging critical thinking and constant questioning of results delivered. “The precise question your organization should ask depends on your best-informed priorities. Clarity is essential,” according to McKinsey’s Mayhew, Saleh and Williams. Elder’s Deal argues that unconscious bias often throws off analytical insights, preventing business leaders from seeing the real problems.

5. A data analytics-driven culture puts people and processes first, then technology

The McKinsey team describes how one organization “plunged into data analytics by first creating a ‘data lake,’ spending an inordinate amount of time “to make the data pristine but invested hardly any thought in determining what the use cases should be.” It’s a case of putting the “data-collection cart before the horse.”

6. A data analytics-driven culture encourages fuzziness, versus perfection

Data comes in all shapes, sizes and formats, from transactional records to PowerPoint presentations. In too many cases, “quantitative teams disregard inputs because the quality is poor, inconsistent, or dated and dismiss imperfect information because it doesn’t feel like ‘data,’” Mayhew, Saleh and Williams point out. “But we can achieve sharper conclusions if we make use of fuzzier stuff. Sometimes, it may even be essential, especially when people try to connect the dots between more exact inputs or make a best guess for the emerging future.” The authors recommend building a “strong data provenance model that identifies the source of every input and scores its reliability, which may improve or degrade over time.”

7. A data analytics-driven culture thrives on inspired leadership

It takes movers and shakers to bring organizations out of their complacency and begin to embrace a more activist culture. “Success comes when a leader is willing to invest back in it, believes in it enough, and is persistent enough to get to that level of involvement,” says Pilcher. The latest-and-greatest technology only goes so far, the benefits and growth a data analytics-driven culture can bring about need to be communicated and evangelized on an ongoing basis.