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Technology / Data

Why good data is people powered

What makes or breaks an organisation’s data strategy is the people using it every day, writes guest author Caroline Carruthers

What’s the secret to a good data strategy? Some people would say it’s a good set of data governance guidelines, or investing in the right data tools. While tangible parts of a data operation are important to an organisation’s success in improving its data maturity, success ultimately depends on so much more than what it has got on paper or how much it’s spending. While plans, processes and systems are all important aspects to getting the most out of your data, what really makes or breaks an organisation’s data strategy is the people using it every day.

data strategy people
If they want their organisation to be data-driven, senior executives must lead by example. (Photo by G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock)

When an organisation is looking to assess its data maturity, one of the first questions it should ask itself is: what skills are present in the business? Simply having a chief data officer (CDO), a team of data scientists, or other data-specific roles isn’t enough, especially if a business hasn’t considered how well these roles fit into the overall structure of the organisation.

For example, businesses with an already existing data strategy won’t get as much out of a first-generation CDO who specialises in building the foundations of data architecture, while organisations looking to begin their data journey shouldn’t be hiring a second-generation CDO who has experience in expanding data capabilities.

Ensuring existing employees understand what data can do for them and their departments is also critical. Data literacy is the ability to create, read, write and argue with data and, in an ideal world, all employees would have at least a foundational ability to do all four of these things. This requires organisations to have the right facilities to train employees to become data literate, not only introducing staff to new terms and concepts but also reinforcing why data knowledge is critical to helping them improve their own department’s operations.

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The need for data leaders

But training employees is just one step organisations must take to ensure good, widespread data literacy. Equally importantly, the data skills of employees in an organisation are directly influenced by the behaviour and attitudes of the business’ leadership. If senior executives aren’t making business decisions based on data, how can they expect the rest of the organisation to do so? Organisations must foster a corporate culture that treats data as a critical resource at the same level as technology, human resources or finance.

If senior executives aren’t making business decisions based on data, how can they expect the rest of the organisation to do so?

People power data, but how do organisations that are struggling to improve data literacy get out of their data rut? How can businesses overcome uninterested senior executives? The answer is a data leader. This could be a CDO, a data scientist or a separate role entirely, such as a CIO or CTO. Whatever the job or background, having an individual within an organisation who understands data and can confidently express its importance to the business is critical to improving overall data capabilities.

It’s no good having a data leader who is only using data because others are doing it, though; they need to understand the value of data as an asset and have the right skills to promote that value right across the business. A data leader who prioritises creativity and a great understanding of the power of data is crucial to implementing a successful, modern data strategy.

At times, data may feel like a very technical, dry and automated side to a business. The truth, though, is that an organisation’s data can only ever be as good as the people in charge of it.

Caroline is CEO of data advisory Carruthers and Jackson and co-author of The Chief Data Officer's Playbook.