Data Culture – What It Is & Why You Should Embrace It

The biggest challenge facing your digital transformation efforts isn’t technology — it’s culture.

Surprised? Think about it. If you’ve spent much time at all in the business world, you can make a list of hopeful corporate initiatives you’ve seen launch and fall flat in the face of doubt, resistance, and stubborn “that’s not the way we do things here” mentality. In other words, you’ve seen many strategies defeated by culture.

It’s a well-recognised fact that company culture matters — especially when it’s time for big change. You can’t see your company culture, but it shapes everything from how you make decisions and the kinds of ideas people bring forward to who you hire and who gets promoted. Once established, culture is difficult — but not impossible — to change.

As someone who’s invested in helping your company thrive in the digital age, you have to accept the challenge of culture change and work to build a company culture supportive of digital transformation. In particular, you must embrace the need to build a data culture.

What’s a data culture? We’re glad you asked. It’s an important question, and we’ve written this page to tell you everything you need to know about what data culture is, why it matters, and how you can build and promote it at your organisation.

What is data culture?

There are two ways you can think about data culture. Broadly, data culture refers to how your organisation thinks about, manages, and uses your data. In this sense, your company already has a data culture whether you’ve built it intentionally or not.

However, as data has become more important to modern business operations, data culture has taken on a different and more specific meaning which we’ll focus on in this article. The term “data culture” has grown to mean more than what you do with your data and now describes the way your entire organisation makes decisions and conducts business.

When your organisation embraces data culture, you prioritise data-driven decision-making and view data as fundamental to everything you do. This is a stark contrast to other organisational culture models such as hierarchical culture in which decisions are made from the top down and consensus culture which requires broad agreement before finalising decisions.

The main goal of data culture is to enable your organisation to make better and faster decisions. Instead of relying on gut instinct, opinions, traditional best practices, and educated guesses to operate and grow your business, data culture places data firmly at the center of your organisational identity, beliefs, and practices.

Everyone from the newest employee up to the highest manager has access to the data and analytics needed to gain data-driven insights. People are empowered and expected to make decisions based on data and to challenge assumptions and ideas your data doesn’t support.

As you’ll see in the next section, the shift to data culture brings big benefits for your business and sets you up for success in today’s competitive business environment.

Why data culture matters

Data culture represents a new way of doing business designed to meet the complex challenges of the digital age. Companies in every industry are scrambling to complete digital transformations so they can remain competitive now and position themselves for growth in the future.

Data is widely recognized as a key enabler of digital transformation with company leaders proclaiming their plans to become “data-driven” and “treat data as a company asset.”

The problem, as more and more CDOs realize, is that it’s much easier to announce plans to become data-driven than to make those plans a reality. You need more than words and fancy presentations —  nothing short of a company-wide shift to data culture will do.

“Data culture matters because it’s impossible to be truly data-driven without it — and that matters because you cannot succeed in today’s business climate without unlocking the value of your data and unleashing its power to drive results”.
To further emphasise the importance of data culture, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of relying on data to make decisions.

Objective basis for decisions

In a data culture, decisions are made based on objective insights supported by data. Your decisions are no longer based on “how we’ve always done things” or the gut feeling of the highest-paid person in the room. You can move forward confidently knowing you’ve chosen your course based on facts and logic instead of guesswork.

Better, faster decisions

When your decisions are data-driven, you can make smarter choices based on fact-based insight about what’s truly driving success in your industry.

As for speed, data culture enables you to identify new opportunities and act quickly to take advantage of market trends and test good ideas ahead of your competitors. Plans backed by data and tangible evidence also make it easier and faster to get buy-in from key stakeholders.

Increased returns

Smarter, faster, more objective decisions fuel growth and lead to more efficient business operations. This leads directly to increased returns and higher profitability for your organisation.

Constant innovation

Data culture inspires continuous innovation by encouraging team members to find new ways to maximise the value of your data. As people combine different data sets and look at information in creative ways, you gain deeper insight leading to even better decisions.

Highly engaged employees

Employee engagement is one of the least obvious benefits of data culture, but it’s also one of the most impactful. In a data culture, every member of your team is empowered to make decisions based on logic instead of company tradition or management whims — and to challenge choices that aren’t fact-based. As a result, employees are more satisfied, more engaged, and more invested in the success of your business.

Key components of a data culture

Company culture varies, but all successful data cultures share three key elements. In this section, we’ll discuss the key components of a data culture and explain why they’re necessary.

1. Executive commitment

Data culture isn’t hierarchical, but you can’t build one without the whole-hearted support of your company leaders. In a data-driven culture, executives fully understand the value of data, model data-driven decision-making, and invest time and resources in data management and improvement.

2. Business buy-in and alignment

Data culture extends beyond IT and includes every part of the business. It’s based on shared goals and the belief that data supports better business decisions and results. Both IT and business team members must be committed to making decisions based on data-driven insights and to treating data as a valuable company asset.

3. Trust & transparency

People will only make data-driven decisions if they trust the data they’re using. Trust is built on transparency, which means everyone knows and understands where your data comes from, how it should be used, why it’s valuable, and how the company expects them to treat it.

How to create a data-driven culture

Creating a data-driven culture is difficult. You can’t buy a do-it-yourself data culture kit or impose it by executive mandate. No, the only way you can create a data culture is to build it patiently and strategically.

Every company is different, and your particular path to being data-driven will depend on factors unique to your company. With that said, our experience has shown us some common steps everyone must take, and we’ve decided to share them with you here.

Secure buy-in from business and IT leaders

The first step is demonstrating the value of data culture and convincing your company leaders to support the shift. You must firmly connect data-driven decisions to solving business problems and achieving better business results.

Invest in your data foundation

A thriving data culture is supported by a strong data foundation. You must invest time and resources in things like data governance, data condition, data quality, data management, data strategy, and data infrastructure  to make sure you’re ready to make data-driven decisions.

Expect resistance

Keep in mind you’re asking people to completely change their mindset and the way they do business. You should expect some resistance to change and be prepared to help people make the shift.

Listen to criticism and treat it as an opportunity for improvement. Enlist influential business team members to work on data projects, implement their suggestions, and ask them to serve as data ambassadors to skeptical employees.

Focus on the highest-value data first

Creating a data culture often starts with a few early initiatives. Make sure your first projects focus on high-value data and deliver demonstrable results to the business.

In other words, don’t build something complicated and interesting — build something immediately useful. These early successes will help build momentum and do what months of training and hours of presentations cannot — convince skeptical employees that data culture is the right choice.

Mindset matters: How embracing data asset management enables a thriving data culture

We can’t conclude our discussion of data culture without mentioning one more critical factor — data asset management. Data asset management could have been included as a key component of data culture or listed as a step in how to create a data culture, but we think it’s important enough to merit its own section.

Data asset management is an approach to data that involves intentionally treating data as a tangible corporate asset instead of a costly intangible business input. When you treat your data as an asset, it’s easier to position data as a valuable part of your overall business instead of an IT concern.

Data asset management enables you to give your data a value, set goals, make plans for investment, and measure the ROI of your data projects just as you would for tangible assets such as property, equipment, or products.

Based on our experience with clients across multiple industries, data asset management is essential for data culture to thrive in any organisation. Your business understands how to manage assets. When you treat data as an asset to manage, building a data culture becomes much easier. Instead of convincing people to get on board with “this new data thing”, you can frame the shift to data culture as a way to get more value out of an asset you already have.

We believe so strongly in the power of data asset management to enable data culture and unlock hidden business value that we’ve built our entire business on it. Adopting data asset management makes all the steps to build a data culture easier and faster. We’ve seen it happen time after time, and we would love to help your company achieve the same results.

Ready to learn more about how to build a thriving data culture for your organisation?

Contact us to learn more about how Anmut’s approach to data can help you build a strong data culture and make smart decisions that lead to success.
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