The concept of being data-informed is not new. From social media channels to the FairPrice supermarkets of the world, organizations have, for some time now, been adopting data analytics to make more intelligent decisions that are aimed at transforming their businesses.
What does it truly mean to be data-informed, though? This means that the rank-and-file worker, who may not be involved in business-critical decision making and was previously not very concerned with making sense of data, now needs to care. Data is no longer just the concern of business leaders who are charting the direction of the business. More importantly, data is no longer just the domain of the business intelligence (BI) manager. In a high performing workplace culture, where data is celebrated and harnessed, analytics should be placed in the hands of business domain experts, from the marketing team to the human resource department.
Yes, BI managers will always remain the essential gatekeepers of data and information security, but being data-informed extends way beyond that. It means that the company’s data is everyone’s business.
In Singapore, there has been much discussion about the country’s drive to become the world’s first Smart Nation, and leaders are viewing this initiative as one that is citizen-driven. A major part of this initiative is about enabling a skilled workforce that is nimble, creative, and largely fueled by data and technology. While this initiative is people-focused, the country’s leaders have taken it upon themselves to develop more technology-driven and open data initiatives to encourage this movement.
Similarly, business leaders are realizing that enabling all their workers to access and interact with data is beneficial for their company’s bottom line. Truly fostering a data-informed, analytical culture within a company involves the empowerment of data users across departments, implementing training, making easy-to-use self-service analytics available, adapting hiring processes and more. In other words, this is a movement that needs to start from the top, as much as it needs to be embraced by literally everyone.
Data for everyone
There is no doubt that speed-to-insight has become relevant for all units of business. Take marketing for example – a function that was for years dominated by creatives that steered clear from playing with numbers, and now has data at the heart of all its campaign strategies. These days, as we see the industry calling for more ‘Math men’ over ‘Mad men,’ marketers can no longer afford to say “I think…” as every campaign is measured for its return on investment. Marketers now design targeted programs that reach out to specific audiences. This is also evident with the growing number of consumer insights and programmatic marketing companies where data-informed marketing decisions make up a big part of their DNA.
Just like the transformation of the marketing function, data literacy should be a part of all conversations within the business. With finance, marketing, sales and other departments all having access to the same, relevant data, company-wide decisions will be better calculated and more aligned. Of course, this will only work if top leadership sets a visible example. Senior executives should themselves be comfortable with using data and must model the analytic process and culture they want, across all business units. Top leadership needs to make sure that employees have access to data and can now ask their own meaningful questions of the data.
Self-service analytics applications are also an essential aspect of the self-sustaining feature of a successful analytics culture. To ensure that these applications do not become ‘shelf-ware,’ they need to be easy to adopt and user-friendly enough for all workers, across divisions, to be able to use it – and not just the most software-savvy workers within the company.
For the most part, getting all users to be truly data-informed will require some training in the form of use cases, online videos and more. It is essential to work with the business intelligence team to create a fail-safe environment for self-service analytics within the organization so that the data-informed habit will come more naturally to employees. This approach would normally work better than a forced initiative passed down as corporate directive from management. More importantly, staff needs to see how self-service data analytics can be a useful application that can help them with, rather than hinder, their work.
People and data skills
The right applications also need to be used by the right people in order for a company to make this transition. As such, top leadership needs to take this requirement into consideration right from the onset. That is having analytics as one of their key considerations when making hiring decisions and discussions, as well as in the development of HR processes. In fact, the lack of talent in this aspect has been identified as one of the biggest obstacles for organizations in Asia Pacific, presenting a huge opportunity for companies to unlock even more value from a analytics-savvy workforce.
Eventually, data skills will become an important aspect of all job descriptions. And in that reality, organizations will benefit from assessing employees and future hires on these necessary skillsets as well. More than the technical skills, it will involve employees thinking critically and having a positively curious attitude towards data.
We have seen companies across all industries, from manufacturing, to healthcare and even consumer goods, benefit from a data-informed culture. For example, Playlab, a leading game developer and publisher, uses self-service tools, across the company, to visualize and analyze their data. This has eventually enabled them to better understand their consumers, enhance game design and improve the planning of game levels, now offering a better gaming experience for players.
Research shows that the ability to make quicker, smarter, and more automated decisions and actions will increasingly become a competitive advantage for businesses – this is something that business leaders can no longer ignore. The key is having that top-down approach where leadership shows the drive and the need to transform the business into a data-driven organization. To reap the maximum value from an organization’s data, the leadership will need to drive the change by having the right technology and the right people in place, and foster a data-driven culture across lines of business.
JY Pook is Senior Vice President, APAC, Tableau