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October 10, 2017

How to Build a Data-Driven Culture

Ashish Thusoo


What drives companies to have a successful data-driven culture? It’s important to understand that it’s not necessarily about the data itself. That’s secondary. The technology itself comes in third. Data-driven decision-making is first and foremost about the organization.

The most important—and arguably the most difficult—aspect of transitioning to a data-driven organization that practices DataOps is the cultural shift required to move to a data mindset. This shift entails identifying and building a cultural framework that enables all the people involved in a data initiative—from the producers of the data, to the people who build the models, to the people who analyze it, to the employees who use it in their jobs—to collaborate on making data the heart of organizational decision-making.

Though the technology that makes this collaboration and data access easy is very important, it is just one of the considerations. A key focus area in this transition are the employees and the organization. After you achieve a true self-service, data-driven culture, you should experience a significant competitive boost to your business.

Following are five tips on how to build a data-driven culture.

1. Hire data visionaries

You need people who see the “big picture” and understand all the ways that employees can use data to improve the business. Although this certainly includes analyzing marketing, sales, and customer data, it doesn’t end there. Data-driven decisions can help with internal operations, such as making customer service and support more efficient, and cutting costs from inventory. And it all begins by hiring people who are open minded about what the data will tell them regarding the way forward—people who have a vision.

2. Organize your data into a single data store accessible to everyone

All of the data in the universe won’t help if that data is inaccessible to the people who need it to make business decisions. A data-driven company consolidates its data while keeping it continuously up to date so that employees have access to the most accurate information at any given point in time. This means eliminating data silos and effectively democratizing data access. But making data available to everyone is an important feature of a self-service data culture. Always allow employees to see the data that affects their work. They need to see this not only at a granular level, but also in a holistic way that helps them to understand the bigger picture. Doing this will make your employees more informed, skilled, and enthusiastic about using data to improve the business.

3. Empower all employees

All employees should feel comfortable taking initiative when it comes to suggesting ways that data can be used. This kind of mentality goes well beyond just using data, of course. If you build a company where all employees feel free to give opinions—as long as they are backed up by data—even if those opinions contradict senior executives’ assumptions, you are building an organization where the best ideas will naturally gravitate to the top and keep you competitive in even the fastest-moving markets.

4. Invest in the right self-service data tools

Your data, even if readily accessible, won’t help your business much if most of your employees can’t understand it or don’t apply it to business problems. You can solve this problem by investing in the right data tools. You should pick tools based on your goals, but as a starting point, your tools should make it easy for your employees to access, share, and analyze data. You might want tools that can be directly embedded into the business tools you already use; for example, Excel and Tableau. And make sure to invest in training for these tools. Having an “intuitive interface” isn’t enough. Do your employees understand basic principles of data analysis, transformation, statistics, and visualization? To achieve return on investment on your tools, your employees must understand exactly what capabilities each tool offers. Training can be live, video-based, or online, and should use a shared data store so that employees can compare their data discoveries and explorations with one another.

5. Hold employees accountable

Technology will take you only so far. You also need to put incentives in place to encourage employees to use the technology and tools. You also should have a way to measure and grade progress toward a self-service data culture. This means holding employees accountable for their actions and progress when they effectively use data to drive business decisions. Only when you reward employees for actions based on data will you achieve true cultural transformation.

The collaborative, social dimension of a self-service, data-driven culture is also not to be underestimated. Without it, you will fail, and your investments in software, data processing tools, and platforms will be wasted. Yet, although many organizations pay lip service to this notion of collaboration and openness, few follow through with the appropriate actions. Keep in mind that data doesn’t belong to IT, data scientists, or analysts. It belongs to everyone in the business. So, your tools need to allow all employees to create their own analyses and visualizations and share their discoveries with their colleagues.

About the author: Ashish Thusoo is the CEO and co-founder of Qubole, a cloud-based provider of Hadoop services. Before co-founding Qubole, Ashish ran Facebook’s Data Infrastructure team; under his leadership the team built one of the largest data processing and analytics platforms in the world. Ashish helped create Apache Hive while at Facebook.

This is an excerpt from Ashish Thusoo and Joydeep Sen Sarma’s book, “Creating a Data-Driven Enterprise with DataOps

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