At the end of June 2011, IDC published a study sponsored by the storage giant EMC that stated that the amount of data created and replicated in that year would surpass 1.8 zettabytes, or 1.8 trillion gigabytes. The report noted that these amounts of data will double every two years. This statistic has serious implications for the enterprise. It is impossible to hide from this onslaught of information. Businesses must decide how they will handle the torrents of data generated by a multitude of sources. Analysts and thought leaders recommend embracing information and enabling the transformation to a data driven culture.
The term “data driven culture” refers to a workplace in which employees not only utilize information as part of their job description, but they want to use it in order to improve their job performance. Such an atmosphere does not rely solely on analysts to assess mountains of data; rather, everyone at the company works with information to make better decisions.
Tony Baer, principal analyst at the analyst firm Ovum, explained the importance of a data driven culture. “The bar has been raised,” he said. “Data is more available than ever before, and if your company is not using data, chances are your competitors are.” Baer was not merely referring to customer information. Many types of data are valuable and can be utilized to make smarter decisions as well as run a business more efficiently.
Avinash Kaushik, author and digital marketing evangelist, echoed Baer’s sentiments. “Being data driven now allows companies to be more agile and nimble, it drives incredible efficiency and make smarter decisions of all sorts – from the type of people to hire, products they should build, and the perfect time to disturb a client,” he commented.
Kaushik believes that too few companies are taking advantage of the incredible volumes of information available to them. “There is an incredible amount of inefficiency in business decision making today,” he remarked. Kaushik believes that need not be the status quo, though. “In the past that was tolerable, just another cost to doing business to waste all that money, because one did not have much of a choice. Today, we have more access to valuable data of every type for a very low cost,” he asserted.
Baer summed up the barriers to shifting towards a data driven culture in one word: inertia. However, he acknowledged that the transition is difficult to accomplish. Baer affirmed that you cannot build such a culture out of thin air. A company must have a firm foundation in place to nurture a data driven culture. “It starts with having people who are experts at their domains who discover that, in a market where their competitors are benefiting from using data, that they must respond by developing skills of their own for identifying data that could be useful for their domains,” Baer stated.
He enumerated the hallmarks of a data driven culture: “Having a core competency to understand the potential value that is buried within data sets with which your team may have little familiarity.” Baer explained that Ovum’s definition of an organization with a high competency in exploiting data is one that employs “data curators.” These employees can identify potentially valuable data sets.
Of course, a data driven culture thrives upon possessing and analyzing correct information. Richard Noble, technical director at Tangent Labs, the technical division of the digital media agency Tangent Snowball, urged workplaces to consider the importance of data integrity. “Data integrity” refers to the maintenance and assurance that information is accurate and consistent over the course of its entire life cycle. Noble believes this principle plays a crucial role in a data driven culture.
“Without correct data a data driven culture is pretty much a farce,” Noble said. “Information is data transformed into meaning. However, as any statistician can tell you, you can make the same set of numbers tell many different stories,” he pointed out. “If your data is incomplete, or incorrect, then the extrapolations you derive from that data are likely to be off. But even when the data is correct it is possible to draw conclusions that lead to misconceptions… It is important to remember that a little data can actually be a dangerous thing.”
Tangent Labs’ technical director explained that data integrity has applications for all types of information. “Data is only useful if you can draw conclusions from it,” Noble asserted. “Whether it’s data from a billing, finance or timekeeping system, or website analytics, how you capture, treat and use that data will affect its usefulness when using it to form conclusions.” He emphasized that trust is paramount when using data.
Noble cannot imagine a data driven culture existing without adherence to data integrity. Such a culture would be ineffective. “Without correct data, honoured, and treated with respect, the conclusions you will draw will likely be flawed,” he stated. Moreover, relying on faulty data can have serious repercussions. “If you are using those conclusions to drive your business, you are likely to fall short,” Noble warned.