Better Data. Better Analytics.

Let’s talk about data culture. WT=(f) does it even mean? I went on a quest to determine exactly this, and how the minority of businesses and institutions, and even countries have made it work.

I first encountered what we would term (in the modern definition) a “data culture” when I took up an opportunity to work for a startup in the small Baltic country of Estonia in 2018. Long story short – Estonia has managed to digitize 99% of their governance. Before the infamous term of “digital transformation” was even being considered, the Estonian government elected that they are to secure their country’s sovereignty by switching to a digital government and ID system encrypted to the hilt.  The goal and also the bait for the adoption of the technology by the people was to enable the Estonian public to vote online. This was in 1997.

Estonia consists of about 1,3 million folks, and about thirty something percent reside in the capital, and its economy used to be based on logging. Side fact: Estonia is basically a forest. In and around 1994, they gained independence from Soviet Russia, and they made a choice: Either inherit the soviet mechanism of government or create their own version of what a government should be. They elected to trash the old and redesign their government and secure their future by embracing technology and sowed the seeds of a data culture which I experienced firsthand.

Taavi Kotka, Former Estonian Chief Information Officer said: “We had to set a goal that resonates large enough for the society to believe in”. This is vital, and it is up to leaders of any business to understand this to establish the groundwork for a  data-driven digital culture.

Ultimately, the Estonians understood that to establish a digital, techno-savvy culture it would require technological literacy, to embrace the internet and wage a war on siloed and “dark” data. The Estonians also democratised their data, and believe that you as an individual, own your data, and they promoted transparency in every form of government.

Estonia now saves 2% of their GDP because they totally digitised their governance. This also enabled them to broaden their tax base, by establishing a E-Visa for start-ups to do business in their country. They now churn out more start-ups than actual people. Imagine that.

More can read on Estonia here.

So, what does it actually mean for a business?

Does it mean that everybody in your business should know how to query SQL or understand sequential pricing algorithms? Or does it mean that for businesses to succeed they need to embrace a culture of using the data that is generated from every digital action and imprint, to better advance the business objectives or address the needs or challenges of the customer per say?

Both are profoundly valid questions when strapping up to digitally transform every aspect of your business. It is a journey that is marked with perils in the form of steep learning curves, attitudes of transparency and outcome-oriented thinking, lead from the front by the top brass, all the way through to the employees and customers.

Like all great adventures, it is about the journey and the fulfillment of an objective accompanied by the high thrill of achievement in turning all those frowns upside down against inconceivable odds. Adventures however require a conviction and leadership that embraces change, transparency and is accepted and acted on by the people that must make it happen. There must be buy-in and it starts with the executive teams and CEO. You can download a great whitepaper on how to transform your business digitally in as little as 6 months here.

Establishing a data culture is democratising your data and affording your entire business to take advantage of ways in which you can serve this data to the person who can make a call or uncover hidden value, based on Bl reporting and insights via dashboards or applications for example.

It is starting small that is the secret sauce according to the experts. Once you have figured out what you want to achieve, how to get the data fit for purpose to achieve an outcome, you start to understand the value of the data when you need it. Digitally transforming is the result of embracing a digital culture. And that starts with the leadership and an attitude of a growth mindset within a business.

One of the primary reasons data initiatives fail is because the executive suite does not fully understand what this all means. Immense effort is made to communicate that the business is embracing a digital culture – the marketing and PR teams get to work putting together the mails, blogs, and internal groups – However, because there was no strategic goal, or objective to solve a primary business challenge using the data, that these initiatives fail or fall short of the parade and fireworks type result. It is more like a pop from a solitary damp roman candle in the field of failed projects. What is the ultimate goal, and how can one incubate a data culture and embed this into the modern business?

A data culture is created over time. It is a process of educating yourself as the leader of a business and educating the people who work for you. It’s educating and informing the logistics teams on how to interpret the data, and how to take of advantage of the insights it yields from the analysts’ office to save those precious few minutes or to automate goods received note processes.

A data culture encourages everyone to ask questions of the data – to offer their insights. Someone analysing the flow of goods in a warehouse via dashboard in the executive, may make a decision which makes no sense to the folks in the actual warehouse. You need to break down those silo walls and integrate all your businesses data so that it is easily accessible and create an environment where we can collaborate with data, ask questions, and foster accountability, transparency and innovation.

This all sounds great in words and theory, but the reality we all know, is severely more complicated in execution. We live in a brave new world, where we are creating and building the digital future every day. We are also dealing with tremendous change and the implications of COVID-19 – both emotionally and psychologically. Companies and people are under strain and resilience has become a pre-requisite.

This does not make the task easier for leaders at all to plot a path to ensure the success of the business. However, starting small with a department in a division and making that work is a start. I have read the experts advise once success is achieved, one should step back and re-evaluate the success and then carry those lessons and perspectives to the rest of the business. Which makes total sense after all.

A data culture is a buzz phrase these days, one that like many others, points to the current technological zeitgeist where we find ourselves on the curve of Moor’s Law of technological and computational advancement. The dichotomy of this upward spiral is that with all the wonder this brings for society and business, is that those who fail to plant the seeds of a digital and data culture now within their philosophy of their business, are doomed to fail in the next couple of years versus those that have taken it seriously.

The future is now. We have the data. Let’s make it happen.

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