What Will It Actually Take To Lead A Modern Data-First Organization?
Data is the cornerstone of modern business, with 79 zettabytes of data created, captured, copied, and consumed in 2021 alone. That volume is estimated to rise to 181 zettabytes by 2025, sparking businesses to shift to a data-first approach.
A data-first approach is a strategic organizational management framework where data and analytics drive decisions rather than intuition or traditional ways of doing things. This approach emphasizes using data to inform decisions and measure the impact of those decisions. A data-first approach focuses on data to drive business performance while ensuring clear governance, accessibility, and security.
It also involves breaking down silos and creating a companywide data platform that allows for reduced friction in using data, increased trust in data, and standardized approaches to data management and governance. Removing these silos will enable data to be used more quickly and combined in new and interesting ways across teams and organizations to create new value for their businesses.
Although many organizations say they prioritize being “data-first,” what could they be missing to ensure they truly have a modernized data approach?
Forming a data-first organization
Handling data is important—in fact, there are around 600 hyperscale data centers in the world, each housing at least 5,000 servers to service the ever-growing need for data storage. Josh Miramant, CEO of Blue Orange Digital, says that being a successful data-first organization doesn’t start with data; it starts with the people.
Managers and users need to adopt a data-first culture. They must think of outcomes as metrics and ensure the effort is put in to communicate in this way, according to Miramant. “Many companies have good intentions of being metrics-driven but get bogged down on the implementation, Miramant says. “No data infrastructure, tool, or design will overcome the need for a ‘data-literate’ organization—data literacy needs to become a coding skill that is nurtured through recruiting and training.”
Miramant goes on to explain that when implementing business processes, metrics-based solutions should be defined and implemented in conjunction with those processes. Then, managers and stakeholders can use these metrics to create iterative feedback loops to improve business outcomes quantifiably.
“With ‘data-literate’ consumers in place, companies must invest in several data disciplines to ensure efficacy is actualized, Miramant says. “Adopting a data-first culture requires a hybrid centralized/decentralized data environment with data consumers and data stewardship embedded in each business unit and management team.”
Miramant asserts that centralized data teams are responsible for large transformation workflows, data observability functions, and security. The decentralized layer, however, gives business units access to highly capable data environments. This allows them to access data quickly, bring in new data to combine it with existing data to answer questions, and process data at scale without highly technical skill sets.
“Business units should be able to develop unique logic workflows and data models while consuming fresh and accessible data environments,” Miramant goes on to say. “Secure and manageable data accessibility is critical in breaking down data silos that typically bog down nontechnical users.”
Lastly, Miramant believes that the creation of modern data tooling, such as Snowflake and Databricks, as well as data ingestion and integration tools and self-service business intelligence software, has greatly reduced the technical friction that used to inhibit organizations from reaching data-first status. Today’s data tools reduce the cost and complexity to serve a wider range of data users in many departments.
3 steps to shift to a data-first organization
To transition to truly data-first organizations, Miramant asserts that leaders must embrace data-driven decision-making and incentivize data-driven behavior. “Data should be used to inform decision-making at all levels of the organization,” he says. “There must be an understanding and acceptance of the value of data and its role in driving the organization forward. There should be a focus on data literacy, with training and education initiatives to ensure everyone in the organization can understand and use data.”
So, if you’re looking to cement your status as a data-first organization, start with these three steps:
1. Clearly define data’s importance to your organization.
Data transformation requires setting clear goals to maximize insights and break down silos. As organizations grow, creating these silos between departments—such as IT and marketing—is common, intentionally or not. However, if the goal is to drive the business forward, a democratized view that removes these kinds of silos is necessary to access data in a meaningful way.
2. Take stock of your current data infrastructure.
Your existing data infrastructure is what will drive your digital transformation. This makes it critical to understand what resources you’re currently working with. In fact, a 2022 study from Digital Realty found that 72% of global executives believe improving data infrastructure is the top priority for enabling more data-driven insights in the next two years. Be sure to take stock of your organization’s current infrastructure and the requirements to upgrade it.
3. Bring your team along for the ride.
As mentioned above, people are the most important part of data-driven organizations. Everyone from the entry level to the C-suite should have a data-first mindset to scale operations properly. Prioritize employee education and engagement to ensure each team member is on board with the new data processes and can maintain progress toward company goals throughout.
Data is vital to modern companies, allowing leaders to better understand their customers, employees, and all the processes running between them. Automating, collecting, and managing this data becomes even more essential as the world continues digitizing. Building a data-first organization is the key to growing and sustaining business moving forward.