Data and Culture go hand in hand

data and culture go hand in handA few weeks ago, I spent an afternoon talking to the CEO of a mid-sized services company.  He’s interested in ‘big data’ and is interviewing consultants / companies to help his organization ‘take advantage of their data’.  In preparation for this meeting, I had spent the previous weeks talking to various managers throughout the company to get a good sense of how the organization uses and embraces data.  I wanted to see how well data and culture mixed at this company.

Our conversation started out like they always do in these types of meetings. He started asking me about big data, how big data can help companies and what big data would mean to their organization.  As I always do, I tried to provide a very direct and non-sales focused message to the CEO about the pros/cons of big data, data science and what it means to be a data-informed organization.

This particular CEO stopped me when I started talking about being ‘data-informed’.  He described his organization is being a ‘data-driven company!’ (the exclamation was implied in the forcefulness of his comment).  He then spent the next 15 minutes describing his organization’s embracing of data. He described how they’ve been using data for years to make decisions and that he’d put his organization up against any other when it comes to being data-driven.  He showed me sales literature that touts their data-driven culture and described how they were one of the first companies in their space to really use data to drive their business.

After this CEO finished exclaiming the virtues of his data-driven organization, I made the following comment (paraphrasing of course…but this is the gist of the comment):

“You say this is a data-driven organization…but the culture of this organization is not one that I would call data-driven at all.   Every one of your managers tells me most decisions in the organization are made by ‘gut feel’.  They tell me that data is everywhere and is used in making decisions but only after the decision has been made.   Data is used to support a decision rather than informing the decisions. There’s a big difference between that and being a data-informed and a being a data-driven organization.

After what felt like much more than the few seconds it was, the CEO smiled and asked me to help him understand ‘just what in the hell I was talking about’.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about the need to view data as more than just a supporting actor in the theatrical play that is your business.  Data must go hand-in-hand with every initiative your organization undertakes.   There’s some folks out there that argue that you need to build a data-driven culture, but that’s a hard thing to sell to most people and simply because they don’t really understand what a ‘data-driven’ culture is.

So…what is a ‘data-driven culture’?  If you ask 34 experts on the subject, you’ll get 34 different explanations.  I suspect if you ask another 100 experts, you’ll get 100 additional answers.  Rather than trying to be a data-driven culture, its much better to integrate the idea of data into every aspect of your culture. Rather than try to create a new culture that nobody really understands (or can define), work on tweaking the culture you have to be one that embraces data and the intelligent use of data.

This is what happens when you become start moving toward being a data-informed organization.   Rather than using data to provide reasons for the decisions that you make, you need to incorporate data into your decision making process. Data needs to be used by your people (an important point…don’t forget about the people) to make decisions. Data needs to be a part of every activity in the organization and it needs to be available to be used by anyone within the organization. This is where a good data governance / data management system/process comes into play.

During my meeting with the CEO, I spent about 2 hours walking through the topics of data and culture.  We touched on many different topics in our conversation but always seemed to come back around to him not understanding how his organization isn’t “data-driven”.  He truly believed that he was doing the right things that a company needs to do to be ‘data-driven’. I couldn’t argue that he wasn’t doing the right things but I did point out the fact that data was considered as an afterthought in every conversation I had with his leadership team.

Data and culture go hand in hand

Since that meeting, the CEO has called me a few times and we’ve talked through some plans for helping bring data to the forefront of his organization.  This type of work is quite different than the ‘big data’ work that the CEO had original wanted to talk about.  There’s no reason not to continue down the path of implementing the right systems, processes and people to build a great data science team within the company, but to get the most from this work, its best to also take a stab at tweaking your culture to ensure data is embraced and not just tolerated.

A culture that embraces data is one that ensures data is available from the CEO down to the most junior of employees.  This requires not only cultural change but also systematic changes to ensure you have proper data governance and data management in place.

Data science, big data and the whole world that those worlds entail is much more than just something you install and use.  Its a shift from a culture focused on making decisions by gut-feel and using data to back that decision up to one that intuitively uses data throughout the decision making process, including starting with data to find new factors to make decisions on.

What about your organization? Does data and culture go hand in hand or are you trying to force data into a culture that doesn’t understand or embrace it?

Note to Self – Don’t say “Data Driven” Anymore

dataJim Harris just wrote a nice piece titled “It’s not about being Data Driven” over on his wonderful Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality Blog.  If you don’t have Jim’s blog on your radar, you should…he does great work over there.

In this recent post, Jim writes about the difference between being ‘data-driven’ and using data to make better decisions.  Jim writes:

In the era of big data, it’s not about being data-driven—because your organization has always been data-driven. It’s about what data your organization is being driven by—and whether that data is driving your organization to make better decisions.

I’ve been guilty of writing about companies needing to be ‘data-driven’ without making the very important distinction that Jim points out there. Success doesn’t come about because a company is data-driven…success comes from what a company does with their data and how they use that data to inform their decisions.

Jim is correct that many companies have been ‘data-driven’ for years. Most businesses would argue that they’ve been data-driven since inception. Most managers love to look at data to help them make decisions but I’d argue that many managers have historically looked at data in the wrong way. They looked at data as their ‘truth’ of how their team was doing. They looked at their data as a way to understand how their business was doing.   Many managers even look at their data as a way to improve their businesses.

The push for ‘being data-driven’ today can often make many of these managers angry, and rightfully so.  These managers aren’t idiots…they know data is important. They’ve always used data.

So…let’s stop imploring these managers and companies to be data-driven and start asking them to look at the data they’re using. Are they using all the data available to them? Is the quality of their data at question? Can they point to a full lifecycle of data management for their data? Can they ensure security, quality and governance of that data?

If they can’t answer these types of questions in a positive manner, its time for them to visit their data management and data quality processes and systems. Perhaps they’ve always been a data-driven company but they may have been using bad data or maybe they’ve just been using the wrong data.

Once an organization’s data quality and management practices are understood and new processes/systems implemented (if needed), the next question has to be about how that company uses their data. Do they use it to make decisions? Do they dive deep into the data to look for new ideas and problems to solve? Or do they just use that data as a way to point to how ‘great’ their business is?

There’s different ways of being data-driven, but like Jim said…the only way to be successful at using data is to use it to make better decisions.  Your organization can be data-driven and still be very unsuccessful. Find the data and data systems that work for your business and use them to make great decisions to make your company better.

The power of focus (after you find something to focus on)

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Focus.  Such a small word but with huge meaning.

In the world of photography, focus can mean the difference between creating a timeless photograph or an out of focus snapshot.

As a baseball player, focus is the difference between striking out and getting on base for the batter…and the difference between striking someone out and getting a homer hit on you as a pitcher.

As a business, focus is the difference between being profitable and going out of business.  Focusing on customers, focusing on a particular segment of the market, focusing on strategy and tactics.

That said, its hard to focus these days.

The Information Explosion and subsequent information overload that has occurred over the last few years is an awesome phenomenon.  This explosion has led to growth and competitive advantage for some,  untold riches for a few and for some, the death of their businesses and livelihoods.

At any moment during the day, you can open up your browser and find more information about a topic than you’d care to really know.  You can open up your employer’s intranet and find out more about your company and coworkers than you’d care to know (wait…you don’t have an intranet with real information on it? Shame on your company!).

This information explosion has had a by-product that most organizations haven’t thoroughly realized.

That by-product?  The obfuscation‘ of focus.

The information explosion has obfuscated focus for many people/organizations by hiding relevant knowledge in irrelevant data and information.

This obfuscation has actually been an advantage for some. There are people that have been able to work through information overload to find those nuggets of knowledge and have built their careers, business and fortunes.   You see these people today building new businesses, designing new operational methods and creating new knowledge…which then leads to more information overload for others.

The key to successfully navigating the murky waters today is the ability to find the right information, analyze that information and then focus on delivery.  Whether as a small business or Fortune 500, the ability to sift through information and focus on the ‘right’ information is key.

Finding the right information is key.  Most organizations and people haven’t figured out how to work through the information overload to find the real, necessary knowledge. Most organizations are still operating under the assumption that their focus and the paradigm created a generation ago still works today. This paradigm has left many organizations stuck in a rut while others blow past them. Its left people stuck in a rut while others blow past them.

Surely these people have been focusing, right?

Surely these organizations have been focusing on being competitive and building strategy, right?

Yes. They’ve been focusing. But…many have focused on the wrong things. They’ve been focusing on the technology,  their competitors or the next great ‘strategy’ rather than on their clients and their employees. Many have focused on growth rather than sustained growth. Many have focused on the next ‘homerun’ rather than just getting on base.

Think about the book (and movie) titled Moneyball (amazon affiliate link) and the Oakland A’s attempt to turn baseball inside/out by focusing on something different.  They stopped focusing on the intangibles and started focusing on tangible assets that can be measured. They changed their mindset and their approach to the game.

Since the Oakland A’s did that…many other teams followed suit – including the Boston Red Sox…and many other organizations.  The Boston Red Sox took the approach popularized by the A’s and won the World Series because they changed their thought process by changing their focus. They were able to work through the obfuscation created by the years of focus on ‘baseball’ and move towards a more refined focus on those things that can be measured and managed.

Focusing is Powerful

Have you ever seen a crack addict?

They are focused.  But…I doubt anyone would call them successful in most measures…but they are focused. Focused on the next ‘rock’ and the next ‘hit’.

That same type of focus is found any many organizations today.  Everyone is focused intently on finding the next ‘hit’ rather than delivering honest value.

Take a step back and rethink your focus.  Are you focused? If so…are you focused on the right things? Do you know what the rights things are?  If you say no to any of these questions…you aren’t alone. Most people will say no to them as well.

To find the right things to focus on, we’ve gotta first wade through the murky waters of information overload to find the right knowledge. Only then can we focus.

And that, my friends, is where I see a real value for IT and the CIO of tomorrow.  

Rather than building ‘more’, designing ‘more’ and developing ‘more’…help the organization focus on the underlying knowledge inherent in the people within the organization.   The successful CIO of tomorrow will be the one that help’s the organization navigate through the information explosion and focus on the important things.

Image Credit: Focus By Michael Dales on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Book Review: Humanize

I received a copy of Humanize from the authors.  I don’t recall there being a request for me to review the book…but I feel obligated to do so…especially since it is one of the best books on ‘social’ and ‘business’ that I’ve read.

Humanize Book cover

The full title of this book is Humanize – How people-centric organizations succeed in a social world (amazon affiliate link). And…that’s the best description of a book in a title I’ve ever seen.

That also should give you a real good idea what the entire book is like. Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant (and their editorial team) not only created a powerful title – but they delivered on that title. And I mean delivered.

Danny Brown called this book “one of the best social media books you’ll read this year, if not the best“. If you follow the social space at all then you know who Danny is…if you don’t…you should start following him instead of some of the other ‘gurus’.

This is a business book about being social…not a social media book. Its not a ‘do this and your dreams will come true’ book or a ‘get clients now’ book.  Its a book about people.

Its a book that will require you to read. It will require you to comprehend.  It will require you to think.

Unlike other social media books, you won’t lend this one out to your buddies…because if you really read it and ‘get it’…this book will be more valuable to you than a warm coat in the North Pole.

Why is this such a good book?

Simple…it hits you in the face that being ‘social’ is nothing more than being human. This book is about bringing the people back into your organization. Its about treating your employees, your customers and your partners as people rather than resource or a number.

Sure…this book is about social media…but its not a starry-eyed treatise written by a couple of ‘gurus’.   You won’t find a bunch of warm & fuzzy stuff or empty words here.  Instead, in this book, you’ll find a wonderfully written, engaging and thoughful book on how to make your business more human – and thus more social.

Unlike many other books in the space, this book isn’t written by a couple of ‘rock stars’, ‘ninjas’ or ‘gurus’.  This book is written by people who’ve been in the trenches and implemented.  This book is written by people who have been doing rather than talking about doing.

This book is for you.Buy it. Read it. Read it again…and then read it again.  It is that good.

The CIO and CMO – true love….or puppy love?

Love ? I love love love you. By doug88888 on flickrI’ve been reading a lot lately about the ‘love affair’ between Chief Information Officer’s and Chief Marketing Officer’s around the world.

I think this is a good thing…as long as this is ‘true love’ and not just infatuation between two groups that are starting to have to work closer together to get things done.

As many of my regular readers may recall, I’ve written about the CMO and CIO working closely together in the past.. for a few examples – see here, here, here and here.

Recently, other’s have been picking up the cheer for a closer relationship between marketing and IT.    A few examples:

The above articles are great…Jump over and read ’em.

But.  (there’s always a but!)

In order to make this new love affair between IT and Marketing work long term, there needs to be some serious buy-in from the other senior leaders. Without a clear agenda being set for the CIO and IT to outlines their role as the organization’s technology consultants and governance professionals AND a clear agenda set as to the role of the CMO and the Marketing team in these technology projects, this love affair is doomed to failure.

Think back in time to other relationships between IT and other parts of the business.  Think HR technology, finance technology, ecommerce projects…etc etc etc.

What’s generallly occured in these projects?  Have they all be successfull or have the generally failed?  What’s happened to the relationships between IT, HR and Finance after a PeopleSoft implementation or a large ecommerce rollout?

Generally…and I’m speaking from experience here….these relationships sour quickly once the projects kick off.


Because the IT group begins to feel like their ‘turf’ is being taken away from them. And….the other team (be it HR, Finance or Marketing) begins to feel like they are being constrained by all the “processes” being enforced by IT.

Will CIO’s start to feel like the CMO is usurping their ‘control’ of enterprise IT? Will the CMO feel like the CIO is trying to ‘own’ all technology without input and feedback from marketing?

A Love Affair….or puppy Love?

Anecdotal evidence of some cracks starting to show in this CIO / CMO love affair can be found in a blog post titled Irreparable Cracks in the CMO-CIO Relationship? where the author reports on feedback received at the recent Dreamforce ’11 conference.  That feedback doesn’t bode well…CIO’s are feeling threatened by the CMO – and vice versa.

So…is this new-found love real or just puppy love? Are the CIO and CMO really in it for the long haul, or are they just feeling the same infatuation that teenagers feel during their formative years?

In order for this new-found love yo grow into something real, there must be a true level of trust built between the two people and teams.  Both teams need to understand the roles and responsibilities of the other teams and people.

In addition, the CEO needs to clearly define the roles of the CIO and CMO in this new digital marketing world. If the CMO is to be responsible for portions of their own technology roadmap, that needs to be outlined and worked out so that the CIO and IT staff understand this and can provide the appropriate guidance and consulting to make these marketing technology projects successful.

We can talk about the rise of the CMO and Marketing Technology professionals all day…but without proper guidance and buy-in from the CIO, CEO and CMO, this love won’t last…and may turn to downright hatred.

CIO’s and CMO’s – if you want your love to move from the ‘puppy love’ stage of infatuation to a real, long term, love – make sure you work on the soft-skills. Work on the trust between yourselves and your teams. Work on roles and responsibilities. Work on the core competencies of each team.

Right now, the CIO and CMO are holding hands walking down the hall way just like two teenagers in love. But real love takes hard work….let’s hope the IT and Marketing teams are up to the effort to turn this new-found puppy love into a real, long term relationship.

Image Credit: Love ? I love love love you. By doug88888 on flickr

Solving today’s problem; creating more for tomorrow?

fixing problems?Over on InfoBOOM yesterday I wrote a post titled The Cloud and The Silo where I discussed one of the current challenge of CIO’s and IT groups today – that of non-IT groups going to the cloud for their IT services/applications.

I’ve mentioned the topic before in posts about Shadow IT and the diminishing role of the CIO. I have also argued for a broader role for non-IT groups in managing their own technology initiatives – as long as IT has a role in those initiatives.

I’m a big fan of the concepts behind Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist concept and would love to see that approach taken within a few companies that I’ve worked with/for…I think it makes a lot of sense.

I’ve heard many IT professionals  lament that these non-IT groups are ‘going around IT’ and aren’t ‘following the processes’ setup by the IT group and the CIO. I’ve also heard many non-IT people talk about ‘going around IT’  because IT is ‘just too slow’ and “they can’t get anything done”.

While there are a lot of issues here that must be addressed by the organization (and the CIO). There’s a leadership issue at play here…one that squarely lands on the IT and CIO’s shoulders.  If the IT group can’t get something done, then you can’t really blame someone trying to find someone / something that will get the job done, can you?

But….I’m also concerned that there’s a larger organizational issue at play here.  Allowing IT to be circumvented, regardless of the reason, shows a disrespect that would drive anyone crazy.  Would the finance team be happy if someone went around them to run their own books?

OK…so I am rambling a bit here…but the basic question I have is this: By ‘going around IT’, are we building a bunch of silos around the organization that will come back to bite us in the ass in the future?

I’ve heard proponents of ‘going around IT’ say that the cloud makes them more agile.  The cloud allows them to rollout new products, offerings, initiatives much faster then when waiting for IT.  All true.

By ‘going around IT’ and using the cloud to build applications and/or roll-out services, are organizations building silos that will never be integrated? Are we building these silos without a thought to what happens to the data?

What happens to the customer data ‘in the cloud’? What happens when you change platforms?  Will the data ever be pulled back into the enterprise for use by other parts of the organization?  Does it need to be?

All valid questions that many people ignore and.or dismiss as irrelevant.  I’ve even heard a few people say ‘to hell with the data…it doesn’t matter'(!!!!!).  Of course it matters…data is the lifeblood of the organization.  If it doesn’t matter to you, you’re missing the point of whatever project you’re working on.

Now…don’t get me wrong here…there are times when going to the cloud is the right way to go.  There are even times when going around IT is the only way to get something done…heck…I’ve done that myself.

But…before you (or I)  ‘go around IT’ to get something done….take a few minutes to think about the long term implications.

Are we solving our problem today while at the same time creating more problems for tomorrow?

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