Six tips for fostering an analytic culture in your business

By Nigel Mendonca

Companies across all industries are making more day-to-day decisions and unlocking value with the help of data– from machine generated data to website data to sales data. More aspects of business are being quantified and analysed than ever before.

Read more: How small business can use big data

The problem with this is two-fold. Firstly, it creates bottlenecks and leads to slower decision-making and missed opportunities. Secondly, data specialists are generally not familiar enough with the business and therefore not as likely to identify opportunities, problems or insights.

A 2015 survey by the Institute of Analytics Professionals of Australia echoed these concerns, finding Australian companies are not cycling analytics insights back into the business. Of those that responded to the survey, 37% admitted their companies are not getting the full benefits of their data analytics skills. This seems to be the result of a failure at executive level.

In order to change this and create a data-driven, analytic culture, I believe business leaders should look to enable everyone in the business to be self-reliant with data analysis. After all, in a 2015 study, analyst group IDC found businesses that encouraged employees to use data in their day-to-day work outperformed organisations that did not, by two-to-one.

Here are six top tips for fostering an analytic culture in a business from the top down.


1. Fostering an analytic culture from the top begins with empowerment

A successful analytic culture must be top-down in a very free-flowing and democratic way. Fostering as opposed to implementing or forcing this culture is key. Empower workers to explore and answer their own questions with data.

One centralised team or a ‘report factory’ traditionally managed old school analytics solutions. But it’s up to the leadership team to make sure all members of the business can ask their own questions by offering accessible tools, the right training and giving data access (except for the most sensitive information) to the entire company.


2. Self-service analytics is the cornerstone

The key to successful technology supporting self-service analytics is hiding the underlying complexity of the data. Keep in mind that tools aren’t truly enterprise-ready if all members of the enterprise can’t use them. Having a tool with a subset of people who can use it, use it well and build great things isn’t enough.


3. Getting all users to be data-driven will more often than not require additional training

Some of this can take place through the actual tools, which tend to offer use cases, online videos and more. Such training tends to focus on features and functionality.

It’s also important to take a wider view with regards to training. Be sure to build up critical thinking, analytical curiosity and a foundation in relevant fields such as data visualisation. Bringing in outside experts can help to this end and keep things exciting. With this academic background and general foundation, specific tool training begins to make far more sense.


4. The senior leadership team must play a key role in the change

An effort to move a business beyond a need-to-know mentality and truly practice what is being preached is essential – otherwise it will undermine the entire transition. Acknowledge that empowerment can feel uncomfortable and take steps to make it feel like the norm.


5. Leadership must begin to mandate data-driven answers

Instead of just asking the opinions of those in middle management, request data in their answers -and request they ask the same of their respective teams.

Answers shouldn’t begin with the words “I think.” Instead, data literacy should be a part of all conversations. Of course, this will only stick if top leadership sets a visible example. All executives should use data every day and must model the analytic process and culture they want.


6. Make data a part of all job descriptions so employees in the business are measured on it

When interviewing new starters, include a data-driven test to assess their analytic skill set.

Keep in mind the ideal candidates are not usually those with the most knowledge of the latest technology. Technical skills are important for some roles but there is one non-negotiable trait that every team member must have: critical thinking. In order to create a data-driven culture with existing employees, ensure you have in place a robust training program designed to foster the new culture.

Implementing an analytic culture is a long-term process, not something that will happen overnight. But trust me when I say that a year from now, your company will have wished that top leadership started the process today.

Implementing the right technology, teaching everyone in the business how to use it and making data a baseline of all conversations are just a few ways your business can begin pushing the ball forward with regards to an analytic culture – and it all begins at the top.


Nigel Mendonca is country manager for Tableau in Australia and New Zealand.


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