Chris Weston
Chris Weston (Principal, European Client Advisory)
Marc Dowd (Principal, European Client Advisory)

What follows is a summary of the meeting of the IDC Digital Leadership Community (DLC) held on the 15th of April 2021. The Digital Leadership of over 30 organisations from across Europe discussed the concept of “Data Culture” and the importance of this to their organisations. We wanted to capture some of the thinking shared by the Digital Leaders who participated, however, synthesizing 50 minutes of insight that came in this abundance is hardly possible in just a few hundred words – you really had to be there. Do have a read.

Is data culture real, and is it important?

The answer from the digital leaders in this session was a resounding “yes”, but there were many obstacles and complexities identified by the group, as well as some inspiring examples of what can happen when a strong data culture is instilled in a business. A recommendation was made that convincing the Board of the importance of a data driven culture is not enough – the correct use of data has to be fostered much wider in the organisation as it is a change to what has gone before for most people.

Education is essential.

One of the immediate components identified by the group was the education of all stakeholders in the use and value of data. There was a lively conversation about the advantages of well-informed people throughout the business understanding the way that data is used and their role in maintaining it. It was understood that this subject can quickly become quite detailed and the question of semantics, whilst seeming trivial to many, can lead to significant issues, such as the recent incident on a flight where the weight was miscalculated because of a sematic misunderstanding of the word “Miss” when used to describe a female traveller.

Several attendees spoke about data ownership, where the value of having people who are accountable for data quality and timely provision can make a big difference to the usefulness of the resulting output.

Keeping it real

One of our community from the manufacturing industry remarked that it was very easy for executives and decision makers to be shown impressive reporting or dashboards, but the effort needed to produce and maintain these tools was rarely understood. The journey from anecdote or proof of concept to sustainable answers to business question can be a long one and often the value at the end is not what was expected.

In one case the CIO had decided to take on the ownership of company data to drive home the need for realistic thinking in this area. There was a feeling that business has started to understand their responsibilities with the advent of regulation like GDPR, but that deleting data was still something that was done reluctantly. Furthermore, there was a need to be practical about the data that can reasonably be managed by an organisation – in the housing sector, for example, it was realised that they do not need to manage the validity of addresses, as the canonical source of this data is the Post Office, and they can use their services instead.

Smart thinking on data

The conversation then turned to some of the advantages of having a good data culture embedded in your business, with an anecdote from the construction industry about the overlaying of various data sources onto a building refurbishment plan that highlighted an issue with behaviour rather than the expected problem with a building layout. The result was a huge saving when the refurbishment was found to be far less complex than previously expected. Similarly in the education sector, data from building use was analysed to show that the way that lectures were delivered should be changed, leading to a fundamental difference to the business model from better understanding of their data.

How important is the technology?

Being a community of digital leaders, technology is always a thread in the conversation, but in this case it was clear that many of the attendees saw technology as a secondary issue. One of the CIOs present was clear that any move that started with an implementation of technology or data-first approach would be less effective than one that started with the questions being asked by the business. Once people start to understand that they can ask questions and experiment with different information the technology need becomes clearer and the approach is more likely to be successful in the long term.

The recent IDC research in this area shows that one impactful approach is to create a capability for answering business questions of all sorts as quickly as possible to generate a culture of demand for better business data.

One of the participants in the education space spoke of using data to provide more effective insights for tutors so that they can intervene more effectively when students are struggling with their topic thus improving educational outcomes. This idea of using trigger based on data will be part of our next session (29th of April 2021) on using automation to embed business intelligence.

The IDC Digital Leadership Community holds meetings of peers every two weeks. Many participants come regularly because they see it, as one Digital Leader put it, as “a chance to hear how others are solving issues without being put on the spot of having to know all the answers”. 

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