What A Data-Driven Company Really Looks Like

Business leaders have spoken at length about how important it is for modern companies to be “data-driven”. Effectively harnessing data is critical when it comes to setting corporate strategy. The challenge is taking that theory and putting it into practice. Here’s how leading companies are building true data-driven cultures.

Management Leading By Example

Data-driven cultures start at the top. Your company may have the best data analysts and the best IT infrastructure. Without executive buy-in, that talent will remain on the fringes of the organization. Executive “data champions” push their direct reports to be more data-driven and metric-oriented. They expect presentations to focus on data and actionable insights. In short, they talk the talk and walk the walk. Their example sets the tone for the rest of the organization. When Sam Yagan became CEO of ShopRunner, he made it clear from the outset that decisions would be based on data. He also insisted that new hires be comfortable using data in their roles. When senior leaders are “data champions”, the rest of the organization takes note. 

Focusing On Metrics That Matter

Top companies recognize that data analytics isn’t a “one size fits all” policy. Embracing data doesn’t help your business unless you tailor your program to your specific needs. For example, if you lead an oil company there are several critical metrics to track including:

· Gross Average Production

· Production Available For Sale

· Operating Cost Per Barrel

Some oil companies have built their data science teams from scratch for exactly that reason. Exxon staffed its data science team with mathematics, physics, and biostatistics talent. That talent has a deep understanding of the oil sector but is flexible enough to thrive in an industry that’s constantly evolving. The team creates demand forecasts based on real-time data, helping Exxon quickly react to market conditions. 

Integrating Data Scientists At The Team Level

Many companies have grown their data science capabilities but kept those new hires sequestered from the larger organization. Data Analytics departments often operate as independent organizations that support business units on a project basis. That strategy may work at some companies but doesn’t best utilize that caliber of talent. Data analysts add the most value when they are attached at the hip with business units. In some companies, data analytics are woven into entire departments. Google’s HR department includes a “People Analytics” team that harnesses data to boost productivity and retention. Embedding data analytics with HR helps Google get the most out of each employee and remain an employer of choice. 

Training Employees To Be More Data-Savvy

Your data analysts can’t be everywhere and not all projects will require their expertise. Some roles don’t require significant data analysis or aren’t easily quantifiable. However, even basic data analytics skills can add value in many roles. Some companies have responded by offering courses in data analytics and data visualisation. Other companies offer formal education in data analytics. Defense contractor ManTech has partnered with Purdue University to offer employees bachelor’s degrees in data analytics. This emphasis on training ensures ManTech can develop a steady pipeline of future data science leaders.

Having a data-driven culture is critical for businesses of any size but that culture won’t take root overnight. You need leaders that are true data champions. You also need to align data science professionals with business units and ensure your broader employee base is comfortable using data. These strategies are mutually reinforcing and the results speak for themselves. Data-driven companies better understand their customers, are quicker to innovate, and even quicker to respond to changing market conditions.

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