Accelerate Value at your Organization by Becoming Data-driven

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In this special guest feature, Penny Wand, director in West Monroe’s technology practice, says data – it’s what organizations have been looking to understand, mine and turn into actionable insights for years. Many firms would say that they’ve already nailed it when it comes to data. And – they’d be wrong. West Monroe Partners specializes in helping organizations become data-driven. Penny has more than 25 years of experience including leading business turnarounds and growth-stage business ventures, with emphasis on effective use and adoption of technology for competitive advantage.

Most organizations say they use data to drive decision-making. But what does it mean to really be data-driven?

As someone who works across industries to help companies use technology to solve problems and implement better data practices, I’ve noticed a common theme: enterprises project a confident external picture of their use of data yet internally struggle to manage it. And as you move up the corporate hierarchy, confidence in data capabilities wanes. Consider this: According to a Forrester study of business executives, 60% lack confidence in their company’s data-driven insights. To bolster this confidence, companies first need to address the roadblocks standing in the way of more meaningful data engagement.

While some data-focused challenges are particular to certain industries — financial organizations, for example, must contend with a complex regulatory environment, while healthcare needs to be particularly vigilant about protecting patient data — there are some roadblocks to insight that transcend industry.

The first is tribal knowledge: Frequently, companies lack cross-departmental standardization when it comes to the tools they use. The consequence is a siloed tech environment in which different departments’ use of different tools makes it challenging to drive bottom-line insights. The other issue with tribal knowledge is that it can breed mistrust between departments, which can present an additional barrier to companywide tech adoption.

Change-resistant systems present a second roadblock to achieving better data-driven organizational solutions. When enterprises have systems in place that are both entrenched and inflexible — like, say, a custom-built time tracking tool that’s been in use for years but cannot integrate with any other apps — these legacy systems can significantly impede their digital momentum. 

Taking a rapid insights approach

In my work with businesses, I focus on what I call a “rapid insights” approach. As its name suggests, this approach prioritizes expediency and action in order to help businesses realize the value in their data. There are three components of this approach that I’d recommend enterprises looking to level up their use and understanding of data:

  • Get honest: In order to improve data management long-term, business leaders need to evaluate their existing tools and systems with an earnest eye to gaps and inefficiencies. The best approach during this phase is to focus on asking value-oriented questions that pinpoint organizational areas where data can empower better decision making. When I work with companies, I call this period of time “insights iteration,” during which I run through a series of weeks-long organizational sprints that ultimately lead to a unified picture of vision and values.
  • Get alignment: As long as cross-departmental technology siloes persist within an enterprise, that organization won’t be able to glean bottom-line insights from their data. It’s critical that enterprises address these cross-departmental inconsistencies. The best approach to establishing alignment is a top-down one, in which c-suite leaders communicate their company’s visions and values from the “insights iteration” phase and use that to lay a company-wide path for data initiatives.
  • Build a “data culture”: Without an informed and bought-in frontline, your organization’s data management strategy won’t be able to reach maturity. And yet according to a 2019 study of c-level executives, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they haven’t created a “data culture” within their company. Establishing this culture is critical, and requires a top-down commitment to education and change management.

Being recognized as a data-driven enterprise is important, but the more important work happens internally. It’s imperative for leadership to break down cross-departmental siloes, evaluate outdated tools, and engage their frontline, but above all, explore new opportunities to reach data maturity.

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