Great Data Stories Will Always Be About People
Data is not the same as business value. You must add the human element and build a real data culture to create usable business strategy.
- By Romi Mahajan
- February 13, 2018
The elevation of data into the pantheon of All Things Important in Business is ironic. The idea of data has great importance conferred upon it because it helps people make decisions based on “fact,” not (and this is the point) emotion. However, the importance the idea of data has assumed is, in fact, emotional. The mere mention of data seems to guarantee “truth” and magically open investors’ wallets in one fell swoop. More people need to ask the question, “Data? So what?”
Herein lies the Discontent of Data.
Industry expert Donald Farmer argues that the ultimate state of data maturity is when an organization is “culturally” data-driven. The point here is that data on its own is a necessary but insufficient element in the journey to data maturity. If your organization has not evolved, honed, and refreshed a culture whereby data can be discovered, analyzed, acted on, and leveraged in a nuanced, agile fashion, then your data is of limited use.
Contrarily, in most organizations, data is seen as a silver bullet with mythical properties. “If we just had the data, then ...” is a common lament. This is far too much responsibility for any isolated factor to carry. It might “feel” good to “know” the data, but to honor it, your organization must convert it into kinetic energy. This is where data ends and culture begins.
The Data/People/Culture Connection
The culture of data is itself predicated on the power of the people in an organization. Technology is the space of silicon, but culture is the space of carbon. People must decide to create a culture and work hard to maintain it. People and culture are intertwined.
When combined with people and culture, data goes from nice-to-have to the single most powerful tool in business. After all, people convert ideas into reality. People divert and optimize resources based on data. People make culture, which then dictates the modes by which decisions are made. People and culture are the basis of true democratization in the enterprise. People ask the right questions; culture dictates how we react to the answers.
No doubt, IT infrastructure plays a huge role, but only when the people and culture pieces have been sorted out. When data isn’t coupled with a good people strategy, frustrated business users are teased with the idea of data but never get contextual, timely, and comprehensive data delivered to them. Furthermore, when data culture and people strategy are missing, IT and business users are constantly at loggerheads, with both teams blaming their frustrations on the timelines and constraints of the other.
When data and a people strategy are coupled, however, the results can be transformative. Ideas and data get translated into action at high velocity, a cooperative culture between business and IT evolves, and each complements the other, redounding to the benefit of the organization.
What We Must Do
This coupling is essential but requires focus and diligence.
As a data community, we have to be at the forefront of this partnership. To start, we must disabuse all the hyperbolic data-Pollyannas of the notion that data is an end in and of itself. There are no magic potions in business. Data coupled with a data culture and a strong people strategy make for a winning cocktail; otherwise, useful energy dissipates into rhetoric.
We must abandon a technocratic approach in which data and technology are elevated and deified. As a data community, we must always apply our ideas to helping people take action to push the business forward. We have to encourage all leaders to think holistically about data as part of the very fabric of the culture and not just a sequestered or siloed “thing” that lives separately.
Data is, indeed, the most valuable commodity in the modern environment. To realize its power, however, organizations must be diligent in creating a real data culture centered on people.
The great data stories of 2018 will be about just that -- people.
Romi Mahajan is director of Blueprint Consulting Services and CEO of The KKM Group, a strategy and advisory firm. In his career, he has spent the better part of a decade at Microsoft as is the Chairman of Data Infrastructure Partners. He can be reached via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/romimahajan/.