Three Steps to Building a Better Big Data Culture
The promise of Big Data and analytics seems simple enough. Collect as much disparate and unstructured data from as many sources as possible and analyze it in order to find new patterns, inform business decisions and spark innovation. So why are so few organizations truly benefiting from advancements in business intelligence and analytics?
The answer, according to recent research, is not in the data center, it’s in the culture.
The effort must begin at the top, according to The Virtuous Cycle of Data, a survey of 362 business leaders conducted last fall by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Teradata. A strong vision and momentum are vital to creating a culture that embraces data and facts as the primary basis for business decision-making.
“There is no substitute for a corporate leader who has found religion in data and analytics,” said Russell Glass, head of marketing products at LinkedIn, during a webcast detailing the study’s findings. It’s critical for C-level leaders to be open to being wrong and committed to discovering the truth through data if they hope to create a data-driven business and lead it to outperform the competition, Glass added.
But the Big Data challenge doesn’t end in the boardroom. The best-performing and most data-centric organizations understand that employees need to be engaged in the effort as well. Making data universally available, linking data to day-to-day business goals and investing in employee training are necessary to build a well-rounded and highly-functioning data-driven culture, the researchers found.
“A really excellent outreach, training and follow-up program is imperative,” said David Trimm, CIO at rental-car giant Hertz, during the session. “You’ve got to be out there continually reinforcing and reminding and retraining.
“Tone at the top, followed up with really excellent execution, those are probably the key factors in success.” Trimm added.
So, how are global businesses faring in their Big Data aspirations? Not well, the study reveals. Only a quarter (25 percent) of executives say that employees at their companies are able to readily extract relevant insights from data that is captured and made available to them.
The EUI suggests three steps to building a data-driven culture that can help any organization better leverage information and use business analytics technology to improve overall performance:
- Build a technology foundation
With data coming into an organization from a variety of sources such as customer transactions, sensor streams, and social-media interactions, the first step is to deploy the requisite tools to gather, process and visualize the information in useful and effective ways. Table stakes include high-capacity storage repositories, modern databases and specialized Big Data applications that can be used to find patterns and make sense of the data torrent.
- Attract the right talent
All of the storage arrays and in-memory relational databases in the world cannot substitute for the skills necessary to manipulate and understand the data. Organizations need staff members skilled in reimagining information uses and developing scientific approaches to parsing the data. Employing experienced data scientists and business analysts is critical to success. Many of the more progressive firms surveyed by EIU have taken the additional step of creating new Chief Data Officer positions to guide their Big Data initiatives.
- Develop a corporate and cultural vision
With the core technology and skills in place, the final step involves evangelizing the value of data-driven decision making to the company at large. Organizations must create and foster a culture that embraces data and facts and applies them to everyday business. As we’ve noted, the effort requires both top-down and bottom-up approaches to ensure everyone gets on board with the new data-driven paradigm.
Once an organization has a firm grasp of the tools, skills and culture necessary to drive an analytics-based organization, they’re ready to realize the ultimate goal of any Big Data initiative: To be creative and innovative with information and continually find new ways to leverage their data-centric capabilities.
“The key to future success is to build an organization that can innovate with data,” said Rod Morris, former senior vice-president of marketing and operations at Opower, a cloud-services firm that supplies SaaS applications to the energy and utilities industries. “To disperse the data, democratize the tools and unleash the creativity of individual employees.”