These are the foundations for building data-driven organizations

18 March 2021


By now it is well-known that you can use data to make your processes more efficient or to construct new business models. What many companies are not yet fully aware of, is that having a thoroughly data-driven culture and business operations, based on learning from the data, can generate average growth of 30% per year (Forrester). In this blog series, we will take you through all the arguments in favor of becoming data-driven, and explain what is needed to embed data in the heart of your activities.

Many companies understand the value of data. Those companies that also consciously address this are growing exponentially. The speed with which you can achieve this depends on where you are starting from. A start-up can start with a clean slate and immediately start incorporating this principle across its entire organization. Other companies are weighed down by their traditional and analogue business processes and have to move these forward to the digital age at the same time. Data-centricity is a key driver in this shift.

Bram Wauters - Senior Unit Manager Data, AI & Integration

Data as the starting point in the era of post-digital transformation

We are living and working in the post-digital transformation age. This is a time when new needs are constantly being uncovered, to which no solutions exist as yet. Data is a key factor if you want to thrive as a company in this context. In a world where we can no longer fall back on assumptions, you need to be able to fall back on your own facts. A correct reflection of the reality of your business, in the form of data, is the compass you need to keep the ship on course during the present turbulent times. This has once again been shown very clearly, especially during the past year. Even global majors such as Disney felt the need to scale their model in the face of the closure of cinemas and amusement parks. They have invested massive efforts in Disney+, their own streaming service, to ensure a stable flow of income. The speed with which they were able to respond was made possible by the collection and analysis of data and using it to generate useful insights.

Data as a strategic asset

Data is therefore of strategic importance; its management and use deserve the same attention as the other valuable assets within your company. There is a lengthy road to follow before you can fully exploit the value of data. As with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the factors at the base first need be in place before you can reach the highest level. The bottom layer and the foundation of the pyramid is good data management, to ensure flawless data quality. In addition, you need to set up the right data pipelines to link, organize and access data. Only after that, can the data really be consumed as useful (AI) insights. The value is in the point of the pyramid.

Technology plays an important role in this, but the right data mindset is the key differentiator for success. Cultural challenges – not technological – are the biggest obstacles for data initiatives. Every layer of an organization has to be aware of how to handle data. Every link needs be just right to ensure good data quality. Building this kind of culture requires investment, time and attention.


Data as a culture, tackle it pragmatically

  • Show proof of its value, with the end goal in mind

As with any change project, it is best to start small. Start out with an initial (good!) data project that can deliver a direct impact on the business. This way you prove that the technology is available, but what is more important, you demonstrate what it can do for your company. For maximum impact, you should link data projects to the company's general objectives. State what your company stands for and start the growth from there.

  • Ensure others know about and support it

Without the right knowledge or tools, employees (who don't have a data profile) will not have sufficient traction to help construct and live a data culture. Their data literacy must first be improved. They need to understand how the data chain comes together. A warehouse operator who is not consistent when doing an inventory count can cause a (perfectly good) forecasting algorithm to make totally unreliable predictions. Minor errors can have such major impacts. In order to be able to trust the technology as much as possible, you first need to get on top of the human influences on your data. Don’t let this stop you from giving employees access to data, for example with read-only rights. Large companies such as Boeing and Maersk have shown that when employees know they can rely on data, new ideas emerge and business operations improve.

  • Think big but remain aware of your own limitations

The objective of becoming a data-driven organization is one that is difficult to achieve within a year. That’s normal, don’t let it scare you away. Many companies are weighted down by outdated systems, outdated cultures and, in some cases, outdated skills. Building a data culture is a process, every step of the way adds value. Appointing someone to drive it forwards, such as a Chief Data Officer or Chief Digital Officer, is always a good way to keep the focus on the horizon.

Investing in one aspect of a data culture is not enough to become data-driven. Data can only deliver strategic leverage once everything fits together.


Realize the potential of your data

This is the first article in our blog series about how to embed data in the heart of your business. Want to read more? Learn all about Smart Data.

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