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Creating the right data culture in your organisation

01 November 2021 • 5 min read

And digital

An engineered approach to data will feed a data culture that allows an organisation to feast on positive results

You don’t need to be a chef to understand the importance of good ingredients for a recipe to be healthy, sustaining and delightful. Good ingredients are widely understood to be the key to great food. In the modern digital enterprise, data is the key ingredient that organisations are beginning to understand the importance of. But many organisations lack the ability to make the most of data’s potential. Yet if organisations are to remain healthy, sustainable and delight their customers, then engineering their data and data culture will be the key ingredients. 

All too often, organisations are capturing and storing data, which is important, but without the right data process and culture in place, businesses will not be able to turn that data into insight. The ability to capture information has led to businesses often having a series of different and contradictory stories about operational performance, sales targets or customer satisfaction. In order to please the customer and move the organisation forwards, the business needs a data strategy underpinned by a data-oriented culture; the two are very different. 

A data strategy tells an organisation where it is going, the map for the journey it plans to undertake. The right culture ensures that the organisation gets to where it is aiming for. A data-centric culture, therefore, needs a strategy from which to navigate, but it will be the development and upholding of the right culture that will get the business to its destination.

Creating cultural conditions

Organisations are increasingly looking to permeate data across the business so that all team members have data access. But access does not create a culture. Culture is created by a common understanding of the data - often dubbed data literacy - alongside knowledge of and buy-in to the data strategy. As a result, team members can play their part in the organisation reaching its chosen destination. Data culture is not, however, about measuring each and every element of the organisation, and then the business only completing what is measured (a sub-cultural behaviour that can quickly develop). With the right culture in place, everyone in the organisation should feel empowered to use the data to explore and deliver outcomes, both expected outcomes, and to identify new opportunities.  

Just as food is cultural and shaped by the ingredients to hand, so too is a data culture within an organisation. Sourcing the right ingredients is hard. Many organisations are finding they lack the capabilities to collect, use and then integrate their data, which leads to the organisation being unable to develop a data-centric culture. Capabilities are vital to the development of a data-centric culture. 

The recruitment market for data skills is very competitive at present. Therefore organisations need to be clear about what skills they require. Hiring data scientists because other organisations are recruiting this unique set of employees may not be right for your business at this precise moment in time. If an organisation can define the structure that its data and data usage will have across the business, then the right partners and possibly employees can be sourced. This structure will depend on organisational needs. Does the business need a flexible data capacity? Possibly to meet high demands at certain times in the year or market pressure points. Does your organisation need expert capabilities, such as data scientists at all times, or would the frontline team be best placed to interrogate the data and discover insights? 

With this understanding of the business and its data needs, the cultural foundations, both in skills and tools, can be put in place. For example, the head of data for a major gaming firm recently explained at an AND Digital breakfast event that a rethink of the data team structure led to data being shared more effectively across the organisation, and then the data scientists being given a “roving brief” to find innovations and solutions that kept the business in a market-leading position. 

None of the above can be achieved without the senior leadership team of an organisation believing in the importance of a data culture and the engineering required to underpin this cultural shift. With sponsorship from the senior leadership team, blockages will be overcome, and the course of the data strategy can be set and delivered.

Abilities not tools

As awareness of the importance of data increases across organisations and vertical markets, so too does the propensity for businesses to believe - and be told - that technology is the answer. Technology plays a part. However, the key is engineering data platforms and development approaches with the data culture and the business at heart. 

Organisations regularly have great data technology in place as a result of some significant investment programmes. However, if the right governance controls and processes are not in place, then the organisation is unable to ensure that the data is trustworthy and of high quality. This quickly returns organisations to the problem raised above - teams presenting different and contradictory stories. Precious time and effort are then expended justifying the data and the decisions made based on that data, rather than the organisation, as a whole, moving forwards on decisions from one trusted source of data. Governance, security and lineage are the bedrock of good data engineering and a data culture. That culture will enable an organisation to be agile and able to take action, informed by the data and transform how it meets the needs of its customers. This is the difference between knowing what happened in a business or vertical market and knowing what response to make. 

The data culture will therefore be flexible and rapid, as fast access to data enables innovation, which increases the value offered to customers. Success will only be achieved by focusing on both data engineering and culture, and it is likely that changes to applications, skill sets, partners and possibly team members will be required to achieve the delivery of a new service and culture. 

Those companies who can go from data collection to data action quickly are the ones who will win.

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