Organisations are struggling to build the right data culture

Today’s leading executives are choosing to invest more than ever before on business intelligence to better adapt to the evolving competitive landscape. In fact, Gartner reports that even during a pandemic, most executives accelerated investments in data analytics. Despite this increase in spending, however, executives also report that the adoption of analytics is at a standstill, and they have yet to realise the long-term benefits of their investments.

According to NewVantage Partners, the biggest hindrance to increasing the adoption of analytics is the inability to build a data-driven culture throughout the organisation. Just a quarter of companies report that they achieved their goals of forging a data culture and creating a data-driven organisation. 

What can senior executives do to ensure they are not part of the solution and not the problem?

Lack of leadership - the missing link?

According to a survey by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, almost 75% of organisations don’t have leadership that supports a data-driven culture or nurtures analytics-led innovation. Alarmingly, 24% of respondents say their company culture tends to limit access to information, and 20% think that organisational structure impedes use of analysed data. 

In short, company leadership is failing to lead by example. They do not embrace data and analytics, and in turn, their teams have failed to adopt data-led approaches to their work. The end result is the entire business choosing to neglect intelligence that could provide beneficial strategic insights, opportunities to drive growth, increase revenue, and speed past the competition. 

What can executives do to change this? 

Moving away from legacy definitions of being data-driven

For too long, we have assumed that being data-driven solely means using technology, often in the form of charts, dashboards or visualisation tools. We invested millions in enrolling employees in analytics classes, data science certificates, and teaching people how to query a database. As the NewVantage Partners report shows, this clearly hasn’t worked.  

Instead, their report suggests, in relation to achieving a data culture, “a slightly increased percentage from last year – now 92% – attribute the ‘principal challenge to becoming data-driven’ to people, business processes, and culture, with only 8% identifying technology limitations as the barrier”.

Redefining what it means to be data-driven

As the leaders of their teams, executives must develop a new vision around what it means to be an intelligence-led company. They should advocate for an organisational culture that adopts analytics as more than just a best practice. They must also redefine what it means to be data-driven. 

Being data-driven goes deeper than “bring charts to meetings” or “make decisions with numbers.” It means implementing a hypothesis-driven culture where we identify theories, test them, and rigorously seek to disprove them while rapidly implementing those that show promise. We must make decisions based on evidence. Don’t let your teams search out favourable statistics. Encourage them to look at the complete data picture and come to conclusions based on the preponderance of the evidence. 

Unlocking easier access to data and analytics

The key to increasing the adoption of analytics is lowering the barrier to entry, bringing the right insights to the point of decision rather than expecting individuals to seek out new data. Traditionally, we asked users to dig through dashboards, submit data requests, or wait for reports to make informed decisions. This was a starting point as many organisations began their quests to become data-driven, but it was also error-prone, distracting, and quite simply, slow.  

We must adopt new ways of delivering analytics insights if we want users to test different ideas and make quick decisions based on data at every turn. To do this, we have to bring the data to the user within their business tools rather than creating yet another destination for decision-making. Instead of asking workers to leave their CRM, their productivity tools, the apps they use to make decisions and take action, we need to bring the data to them, seamlessly embedding it in the tools they are already using. 

Today, this is the single most important factor to evaluate in BI solutions. According to the Sisense-commissioned IDC Internal Analytics Survey 2020, 61% of business leaders say incorporating analytics into their existing workflows is one of their biggest objectives while choosing third party solutions. 

Taking ‘ownership’ of data leadership

Executives must take the lead to drive analytics adoption and become the organisation’s chief evangelists. They must make use of a multidisciplinary toolbox of skills – including experiential, creative, and analytical, to gain insights to shape data-driven business strategy. The days of passing off data questions to specialists and analysis are over, and if we are going to ask everyone in the organisation to be data-driven, that change must start from the top. 

Take CMOs, for example, who must combine creative thinking with a surge in customer and prospect data to target the correct audience with the right marketing channels. Today’s buyers prefer to learn about products on their own, rather than engage with salespeople right from the start. This puts the onus on CMOs to make smart choices about advertising, content, and demand generation, and they must make these decisions in hours and days, not weeks and months. 

Another example are sales leaders. Today’s CSOs and CROs must do more than set quarterly goals before retreating to the sidelines as cheerleaders. They now have the data to investigate forecasted revenue shortfalls, measure the pace of sales reps, test various sales cycle lengths, and more. Implementing a metric and hypothesis-driven culture ensures the team abandons sales tactics that don’t work and rapidly implements the ones that do. In the end, the whole company predictably hits its revenue targets. Everybody wins. 

Accelerating business success

To succeed in today’s quickly-changing business environment, the entire company must make the shift to becoming more analytical, and it is up to all executives to lead the way.  

In a McKinsey survey of C-level execs and senior managers, responders from high-performing organisations were 70% more likely to have a data leader in the C-suite. Their organisations were also more likely to foster a culture of data-driven iteration, rapid testing and failure, and making data accessible to everyone in the company, even frontline employees. 

This means the onus is on executives to champion data initiatives, infuse analytics into business workflows so everyone can use actionable intelligence, and they must be examples of a data-driven culture to the rest of the company. 

Scott Castle is Chief Strategy Officer at Sisense. 

Scott is an an experienced organizational leader with a proven track record building outstanding teams and developing product and business strategies in the high-tech and data space. He runs business, product marketing and GTM strategy at Sisense across all product lines and manages key strategic partnerships including AWS and Snowflake. He also oversees Sisense’ cloud offering, user research and product management teams in the USA.

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