Let’s start with an ice cold fact: in the very near future your company will either thrive or die depending on how skilled you are at leading your business by data. There is no longer time to ponder if this will happen – the decisive question is how quickly you can make it work.

As Jeff Immelt of industrial giant GE has said: ”You can go to bed tonight as a manufacturing company and wake up tomorrow as a software and analytics house.” The pace of change is fantastically rapid!

Even talking about leading business by data is a good way to create panic in most companies. There’s so much to do and even the basic things are nowhere near ready. Where to start? What to do first?

Sofigate’s Advisor Essi Puustinen says there’s no need for panic. Even though most Finnish companies still have a long way to go in becoming masters of leading by data, they also have huge opportunities for winning while on that road. Here, Puustinen lists six main things to take onboard:

1. Data becomes valuable only when the business is able to utilise it

”I often compare data to Lego bricks. If we have a bucketful of miscellaneous pieces, no one is able to find anything worth building. Only once we have sorted the bricks can we start reaping the benefits. First let’s move the red rectangles over here, then the yellow squares over there… and suddenly we see a racing car or a pirate ship! In this same manner, we must sort our data into clear visualisations before it’s of any use to our business. The key thing to remember is that our IT shouldn’t tell our business to dive headfirst into the Lego bucket, but to make the data easily accessible and comprehensible.”

2. Data Scientists are old hat, business-minded Citizen Data Scientists are the new kings

”A self-service mindset in data analytics is nothing new as such, but so far its execution has been lacking. Most data analytics tools are not user-friendly and very often the data lies fragmented in hundreds of different applications and data storages. Only in the past couple of years have we started seeing major investment into analytics tools. These modern tools are easy to use, visual, and smart – which means that you don’t have to be a dedicated Data Scientist to use them efficiently. As data becomes easier to utilise on a self-service basis, its benefits can be enjoyed quicker.”

”To a large extent, data has long been a playing field solely for IT experts and Data Scientists. But as the analytics tools develop, more and more business experts can become Citizen Data Scientists, as Gartner terms them. According to Gartner, these business-minded Citizen Data Scientists will outnumber traditional Data Scientists by five-to-one in companies in the near future.”

3. Even the smartest tools are not enough if the basics are left in disorder

”A company can have the finest and most expensive self-service analytics tools but still fail to become authentically led by data. Failure is certain if the groundwork hasn’t been laid right. In many companies, the IT function still has a reputation of being slow and rigid. And attempting to utilise data by any other than agile methods is just pure nonsense. It is important to learn quickly, start small, proof-test and demo.”

”Unless the company has in place a well-organised data management model, the results will slip into chaos. A successful model enables and supports self-service. The company also needs a user-friendly data catalogue to make data discoverable in a language that the business side understands. This could be compared to online shopping or Netflix: How would you be able to find the movie you want to see if there were no categorisations and all information was just scattered wherever?

4. Leading by data is a joint venture for business and IT – don’t outsource everything!

”Leading business by data is in no way a technological project handled by your company’s IT experts. The experience and vision of your business leaders should be strongly represented in this joint venture between IT and business. A good place to start is by beginning to coach your business people towards a Citizen Data Scientist role, as envisioned by Gartner. It’s not only wise, but cost-efficient, too: your business folk are the best experts and they already use data to make decisions every day! They are the ones capable of turning data into business actions.”

”Never think it’s possible to outsource your data expertise. By doing so you would only be undermining yourself. Utilising data is becoming such a key part in any business that you must nurture and keep hold of the talent in your organisation.”

5. You don’t have to learn to code – tomorrow’s data analytics is as easy as Powerpoint

”The new role of being a Citizen Data Analyst can cause trepidation among your business experts. Will they have to start coding or become math geniuses? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding No! Modern analytics tools provide simple AI functions and automated logicalities that help in mapping and modeling various scenarios. In the future, professional Data Scientists will continue to handle the most complex cases, while business professionals focus on utilising self-service analytics to suit their own work. These tools will be as natural a part of everyday business as Excel or Powerpoint are today – only they generate much more value!”

6. Where to start? – From where the possible benefits are the biggest!

”If the basics in your organisation are in disarray, it can be difficult to decide where to start. It can even be difficult to pinpoint where the problem is. My tip is to start from the point that potentially creates the most value for your business and that is the most realistic to execute in a concise time frame. The metrics for success should also be decided based on a business point of view. Typical metrics could be be the increase of revenue, cost savings, or a decreased amount of accidents at your manufacturing plant.”

”When approached this way, the path to leading business by data is no longer controlled by your IT function. If you prioritise those data utilisation projects that bring the most business value, your business side will take the reins of the process. And ultimately IT and business work towards the same goal. There is no rush to do everything at once: it’s wiser to focus on intelligently selected challenges and tackle them with 100 per cent gusto.”

 

Essi Puustinen is an Advisor at Sofigate. Though she holds an MBA, she has always been enthusiastic in managing and utilising data. She has helped various companies, including global listed ones, to achieve competitive edge by learning to lead by data.

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