Insights Derived from a Year of Data Analytics Conversations: Part 1 | Corinium

Over the course of the last 12 months I’ve had innumerable conversations with data analytics professionals from here to London. They’ve been with Chief Data Officers, Chief Analytics Officers and many other senior professionals with an impressive array of job titles. I’ve talked with people from the banking industry and with people from vehicle manufacturers. These conversations have taken place over drinks at a hotel bar in Amsterdam and over a 7* dinner at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.

This is what I’ve learnt from those data driven conversations.

You Think You’re Data Driven But You’re Not

The objective de jour is to be a “data driven enterprise” where every decision from boardroom to mailroom is made using data – structured data, unstructured data, shared data. Whatever data can be had. And this data may or may not be used (depending on the organisation) along with good old gut feel and experience.

In a recent dinner roundtable some very senior leaders in Dubai were debating what the key traits are of a data driven enterprise. All the traits made a lot of sense in theory – and they did encourage debate. I listened for a while and then interrupted (interjected is probably a bit more polite).

“Does anyone sitting in this room actually work for a data driven enterprise? And if not, why not?” I asked.

Sheepish nods prevailed as people admitted that they didn’t really work for one although it was an objective. A few people did say they were transforming to being data driven. One was from a relatively small, online start-up so it was easier because they’d started with data in mind.

Can an organisation of any reasonable scale be fully data driven? Surely it’s like pregnancy – you either are or you aren’t.

This got me thinking about this term – data driven enterprise. Can an organisation of any reasonable scale be fully data driven? Surely it’s like pregnancy – you either are or you aren’t. There’s no middle ground. If even one department is still using only gut feel and experience to make decisions then the enterprise is not data driven.

But this elicited another thought: is it at all possible to not use data to make decisions? I can’t think of an instance where a company or business unit would not at least use a simple spreadsheet or survey to make a decision on something. So therefore one would assume that any organisation of reasonable scale is data driven. Or are they just data enabled? And if so, then what does it take to be data driven?

Here are the 6…no make that 8 key elements of being data driven. A Google search of “data driven enterprise” returns results on how to be a data driven enterprise. The problem is they’re all quite different. Sometimes there are 6 key factors and sometimes 8 critical elements. This demonstrates that there is no one answer to what being data driven really means.

In my opinion to move from being a data enabled enterprise to a data driven enterprise requires (at least) one thing.

Show Me Your Leather-Bound Data Strategy

Just saying “we’re going to use data to get insights” is not good enough for a company to say they’re data driven. I believe that an enterprise needs to have a formal, documented data strategy to even consider themselves a data driven enterprise.

When I participate in roundtable discussions I pick up that there is a lot of ad hoc data work happening in businesses. I appreciate that getting buy-in from every department is a challenge and that pockets of excellence need to be developed. But there doesn’t seem to be an overarching plan for how data is going to be used and why.

How often do you see a company produce a “Vision 2021” plan or a “5 Year Growth Strategy” document? The leaders of that business have a plan – it’s documented and it’s communicated to the rest of the organisation. But, does that plan include a plan for how data is going to be architected and used? I’ve not seen them all but I bet not. So, how can a company be data driven if their corporate strategy doesn’t include data at its core?

I asked the question of two separate groups – one in South Africa (mostly financial services) and one in Dubai (a mix). Of the 25+ companies represented only 2 said they were just about to embark on creating and documenting their data strategy.

Two! And this from a group of big organisations who wanted to be data driven.

For me this is a critical step in becoming a truly data driven enterprise. Of course it’s not an easy thing to achieve because in so many instances a company doesn’t even really know who to put in charge of their data strategy. The rise of the Chief Data Officer is hampered by a lack of understanding of what that role will do. Surely they should be in charge of mapping out how data will be used across a business?

The first step for a business is understanding what they want to achieve through their data strategy. The common view is that there are two options:

  1. A defensive strategy
  2. An offensive strategy

Davenport and Dallemule offer up this matrix (“What’s your Data Strategy“, HBR, May-June 2017):

Some organisations, a large bank for example, will require a mix of these two strategies. On the one side they need to play defense because their regulatory compliance is heavily underpinned by sound data governance principles.

On the other side they want to win more business and so need to derive customer insight, in real-time, to deliver/sell more products.

Smaller organisations, that are less impacted by onerous legislation, have a much simpler decision to make – collect data, analyse it, make decisions. And for the most part this is being done but I still don’t believe the strategy is documented and communicated to the business…signed off by the Board even.

It’s not all bad though. I’ve recently been researching the use of data analytics in the supply chain and logistics industries – because most of my research is done in financial services and retail. Most of the companies I have spoken to have had significant top-down pressure (and support) to develop better data practices and to formalise how data is used across the business. Some companies are even beginning to devise their data strategy.

It seems that the challenge is marrying core business with data strategy. Data analytics is not something that happens on the side as a nice to have. Data analytics is something that is integral to the workings of the business. And it’s not just about understanding the churn propensity of your middle LSM mobile users. It’s about predicting when large industrial machinery will require maintenance (before a costly breakdown) and knowing how much of what inventory to hold and when.

In my mind, to become truly data driven then data needs either be a core component of corporate strategy (documented) or have its own leather-bound strategy document that describes the vision and roadmap for getting there.

End of Insights Derived from a Year of Data Analytics Conversations: Part 1

In part 2 I will share thoughts from conversations I had on data governance, AI and talent development.

Craig Steward is the Managing Director: MEA for Corinium Global Intelligence – a company the specialises in data analytics conferences, networking events and content. Craig spends the majority of his time researching the development of the data analytics market in MEA and is focused on bringing the data analytics community together to share ideas and swap war stories.

The culmination of this research are the industry leading conferences run by Corinium in the region:

Chief Data & Analytics Officer Africa
DataCon Africa 2018

Craig also runs a Meetup in Johannesburg for anyone interested in discussing the strategy behind data analytics. To join the group click here. The final meeting of the year takes place over breakfast on 8 December in Sandton.


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