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People must be at the center of organizational data strategy

Mike Capone, CEO, Qlik


Calling the C-Suite: 5 steps for putting people at the heart of your data strategy

With data ‘the new oil’ in business, the priority of many C-Level executives lies in how to empower their workforce to extract greater value from the data the business owns.

The rewards for enterprise leaders that achieve this are significant, with data-informed organizations associated with up to an additional US$500 million in enterprise value, as well as improved productivity.

In pursuit of this opportunity, enterprise leaders are transforming working practices to put data at the heart of more roles across the organization. However, the Human Impact of Data Literacy report, commissioned by Qlik and Accenture on behalf of the Data Literacy Project, revealed that many companies struggle to close the gap between their vision for a data-informed workforce and their ability to deliver on this in practice.

To harness its potential, enterprise leaders need to develop a strategy that focuses on human driven value creation through data. Here are five practical first steps any enterprise leader can execute on today:

1. Assign a data champion tasked with delivering tangible results

What tangible value do you want to realize from data? And is the business currently set up to deliver the desired goals? These are the questions you should ask to first outline your

business objectives for data. To identify opportunities that align with and will tangibly impact these wider company objectives, appoint a data champion. Typically, a Chief Data Officer (CDO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO). Their role would be to act as a data ambassador across the organization, working with stakeholders to identify opportunities to better use data, and establish a change management plan to successfully implement them. Having this top-down approach is critical to delivering true change and will ensure employees across all levels understand the positive contribution data can have to both their own role and the broader business.

2. Be as preparedas possible

You should not embark upon a data strategy without an accurate understanding of the current state of data-informed decision making across the business and the potential barriers to success. When armed with that information, work with the senior stakeholders of each department and the data champion to ensure that every employee has access to the data and tools, as well as the appropriate skill level required to succeed with data in their role. This is critical, since the Human Impact of Data report revealed that although 79 percent of C-level respondents believe that all or most of their employees have the tools they need to work productively with data, just half of middle managers and below would agree.

To gain an accurate view of data skills across the enterprise, coordinate focus groups with different teams to understand how they are currently using data, and what further access and tools they need. An understanding of skill levels can be ascertained by using a data literacy assessment, which measures the ability to read, understand and work with data, rather than technical expertise. There are also free individual assessment tools available online, while bespoke, enterprise assessments can be provided by data literacy consulting services.

3. Equip your employees with the right tools for the task at hand

As the CDO of Nationwide, Lee Raybould, put it: “The notion that a frontline customer-facing employee needs or wants to spend lots of time analyzing information, is just not realistic if it doesn’t directly contribute to how they do their work.”

Work with the CTO and CIO to ensure that the data tools serve the needs of each user and across skill levels. For example, the needs of a business analyst compared to a HR manager are very different. To support the uptake of data-orientated working practices, tools that are put forward for business users must follow three criteria. First, they must be relevant by providing appropriate and useful insights for specific roles. Second, they must be consumable and present data in a way that can be easily digested. Finally, the tool must be embedded into existing business, such as HR or CRM software, so that it’s easy to integrate data insights into the user’s working practices.

4. Prioritize upskilling your existing workforce

The true benefits of data are realized when everyone in an organization is comfortable and confident using data to inform the decisions they make every day. Yet, just one-fifth of the global workforce report that they are fully confident in their ability to read, communicate with and make decisions using data, and over one in 10 employees have previously left a job due to the expectation to work beyond their skillset.

Data literacy training is therefore essential. This can take many forms, with some companies integrating it into existing skills initiatives, while others provide standalone e-learning courses or specialized classroom training for staff. However, it should always be a continuous learning program to ensure that skillsets are continually reinforced and developed. The data champion must therefore work closely with the Chief People Officer to evolve the program every year in line with the firm’s changing use of data and employee needs.

5. Stay relevant and adaptable

To extract the greatest value from data, enterprises must be constantly exploring where the new opportunities are for it to better inform processes and decision making. In collaboration with the data champion, leaders have two critical responsibilities here: firstly, they must ensure that this process becomes ingrained in the organization’s DNA so that data is always used to effectively improve its competitive advantage.

Secondly, they must ensure that employee skill levels, access to data and tools are continuously reassessed to ensure that they can deliver on these new opportunities.

A successful data strategy has people at the heart of it

The potential for data to improve competitive advantage is unquestionable. Yet, too few executives lead from the front and recognize that success is dependent on their ability to empower employees to comfortably and confidently use data. Following these five steps, leaders can put people at the heart of their data strategy to unlock the potential for data-informed decision making in their enterprise.