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From "data-driven" to "data-enabled"

Written 22 October, 2018, 3 minutes to read

“Data-driven” – the beloved buzzword of businesses worldwide. It’s saturated pitches, websites, conferences and adverts for years without every really providing any substance or meaning. Yet our fascination with data remains as strong as ever: 99% of businesses think data is “very important”. Our problem doesn’t seem to lie in wanting to collect data, but in actually putting its wisdom to use. So how do we move from a flat culture of “data-driven” to one that actively puts data to work? How can we become “data-enabled”?

For the love of data

“Data-driven” was so successful as a marketing term because it tapped into the key power source behind business success – knowledge. It caused businesses to start investing in tracking tools in a frenzied attempt to understand themselves and their customers. They just lacked one crucial thing – direction.

Data on its own isn’t very useful; you need to have a key line of enquiry or business objective to actually get anything valuable from it. So while many companies are now sitting on enormous amounts of data, many don’t know what to do with it – 85% of executives admit to not understanding their own data.

So we need to go beyond “data-driven”. We need to start using data to make choices that have a quantifiable effect on our businesses – to enhance organizational practices and make intelligent business decisions. We need to go beyond the empty vanity of “metrics” and multicolored reports to actually find insights we can learn from.

How do you become data-enabled?

Think of it this way: if the data you’re collecting doesn’t answer a particular question or help assess your accomplishments, it’s not that useful. There’s no innate worth in data itself, only how much it can teach you. To become truly data-enabled, you firstly need to know what questions you want to ask. For example:

  • Has your latest marketing venture actually delivered any new leads?
  • Do your fixed project rates deliver your expected profit margin?
  • Are some clients more profitable than others?

Without having a question to lead your enquiry, you won’t know what data to actually collect or look at. Once you know what you're asking, invest your time to these three main areas:

  • Technology: Move away from outdated manual reporting to real-time evaluation. Investigate tools which automate the collection of the data you actually need.
  • Process: acquisition aside, you need to have clear practices on how your data be managed, accessed and utilized. If this involves user data, you need a robust system that is fully compliant with all data laws and regulations.
  • People: educate and support your team to adopt new methods and ways of working. To be successful, your entire team needs to be “data literate”.

How to build a data-enabled team

To really stick, "data" needs to become a central part of your company culture. That doesn’t just mean having a technical aptitude for manipulating data – your people need to see data as one of your biggest assets for growth. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Recruit the right type of people: Obviously, you’ll want to hire analytical thinkers and people with strong factual reasoning skills. But make “open-mindedness” a priority, picking out those who are keen to learn and curious about getting to grips with new processes. And crucially, always hire for diversity.

  • Get your team on board: You’ve decided that “data-enabled” is your new mission – but unless you’re pushing that message it may fall flat. Make it a priority: keep data at the forefront of people’s minds by showcasing it in the office; protect space to discuss new developments, tools and approaches; hold a “data post-mortem” at the end of a project, and exploration sessions to help guide new proposals or find new opportunities. Once your team realize how important learning from data is, they’ll naturally adopt it themselves.

  • Train, train, train: data training is never done. While you don’t have to try and turn your creatives into analytical tech wizards, make sure everyone is encouraged and guided to useful learning resources. Consider making some data courses or qualifications mandatory for everyone, and save time for personal development. Take a leaf out of Google’s book; they implemented an 80/20 rule, where employees focus 20% of their work time on personal projects. You only get out what you put in, so invest properly in your team properly to get a good return.

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