You have data tools, but do you have a data culture?

Data analytics tools are great and they’re getting better every year. Marketing continues to utilize and develop personalization through data-driven insights. But while smaller businesses are looking to bigger enterprises and corporations for the best practices and innovation on using data, it turns out that many big companies still have a lot to cover, and could even be lagging behind the momentum of using AI. 

This is the main and surprising finding of NewVantage Partners’ (NVP) 2019 Big Data and AI Executive Survey. 64 c-level technology and business executives from very large corporations and household names participated, including American Express, Ford Motor, General Electric, General Motors, and Johnson & Johnson. 

From the c-level participants, the survey found: 

  • 72% still have to forge a data culture
  • 69% have not created a data-driven organization
  • 53% said they don’t treat data as a business asset yet
  • 52% admit that they are not competing on data and analytics

Investment is high, adoption is low

Big data and AI initiatives continue to get increasing investment. Almost all the survey respondents (92%) say their investments for AI technology are only going up. 88% report “a greater urgency” to invest in big data and AI, with 75% admitting fear of disruption as their motivator in their AI investments. 

For 55% of the companies, their investments are now worth $50 million, up from $40 million in 2018. 

In tandem with their investments, chief data officers and entire organizations assigned to manage AI and big data made a big jump in numbers. Only 12% of companies staffed this role/team in 2012. It’s at 68% this year. 

So it’s really surprising–and alarming–that the percentage of firms identifying themselves as data-driven has declined in each of the past 3 years: 

  • 37.1% in 2017 
  • 32.4% in 2018 
  • 31.0% this year

Only 7.5% of these executives consider technology to be the challenge. In fact, today’s tools compete in user-friendliness. The real reason for the low adaptation? People and “process issues.” 

The hurdles in making the shift to using data tools

People and process issues means implementation didn’t succeed: in this scenario, teams and employees continue using what they’ve always used, or doing things the way they always have. 

“We find that getting people to use the tools is actually 70% of the effort.” This is from Jaco Fok, Chief of Innovation and Digitization at OMV Petrom, a Romanian energy company with revenues of around €4.7bn ($5.2bn).

This can always be traced back to the company leaders, who happen to be the respondents of the NVP survey. 40.3% of them admit to “a lack of organization alignment” and 24% cite cultural resistance as the most glaring factors contributing to slow or disrupted adoption. 

Many executives and their teams also often get sidetracked and pressured to achieve quarterly financial goals and growth projects. These short-term initiatives understandably push aside AI adoption and other data-based initiatives. 

Another factor is wariness, stemming from the failure of some high-profile digital transformations, where the company leaders want to be cautious and sure of every step. 

So how can you make the horse drink? 

AI is the water–and it’s sweet, delicious water. The benefits of teams fully-empowered by AI and big data can easily entice the teams to use data tools. 

When they hesitate, it means the leaders haven’t communicated those benefits, and are hesitating themselves. After all, it’s good sense to not trust something your CTO doesn’t trust, isn’t it? So the confidence in using data analytics tools need to come from the top tiers. 

Harvard Business Review hosted a breakfast to pick the brains of execs following the NVP survey results, for suggestions on how to solve the issue of slow adoption. 

Senior leaders should strongly advocate for data, AI, and the use of data analytics tools within their organizations. Chief data and analytics officers say that so far, this is rare. 

  • Try internal influencers. Depending on the size of your organization, this group can number from 10 to 50, outgoing individuals who are enthusiastic and vocal about switching to digital tools, and the benefits in using them. 

Identify and roll out specific projects that move the company in the right direction. 

From us at Wrench, this is great. Something as simple as replacing old processes with new, for example, transitioning your marketing team to use this or that new tool rather than the old process. This is proactive. 

Establish scorecards to measure the success of the new tools and processes. 

To establish scorecards, the tools really have to be used. In the above suggestion, you roll out projects using the tools. Then keep track of the improvements that happen. Time saved, decreased error rates, increased profit margin or engagement level, and so on. 

This is important not just for the higher c-level execs to be assured their investments are making progress, but also for the employees to see tangible proof that their effort in using the new tools is worth it. 

Start a “school” where employees can learn how to use the tools and resources at their disposal.

The best tools have video and/or highly visual infographics that simplify how to navigate and use the tools. All you’d need to do is make these resources easily accessible to employees. Time they spend learning is time paid, of course. 

Adopting tools is a shift in company culture

Adopting tools is really part of a company’s cultural mindset. It needs big support in proportion to this big change from doing things one way to another. 

Change is hard (and scary), but employees are resilient and can be quite enthusiastic to change if the leaders make sure the employees have support, guidance, and knowledge about these new data tools and processes, not just on how to use the tools, but the purpose and importance of this change. 

Most employees are kept in the dark about the reason for the change. The company’s leadership just rolls out tools and expects everyone to make the shift. Then they’re surprised at the lack of reception. 

No matter how seemingly obvious the benefits are, company execs should acknowledge the new tools and processes, and talk about how they’ll help the employees, customers, and the business overall. 

From there, the company’s leadership can start truly championing this new way of doing things, tracking progress, holding people accountable, and leading by example. Investing in the tools isn’t enough. Companies must truly commit and create a culture of data-orientedness and only then can they expect to derive meaningful business benefits. 

Sarah Cooper

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