Taking an Outside-In Approach to Data and AnalyticsGartner Analyst Alan Duncan on Identifying Business Value From Data
Data and analytics practitioners focus a lot on the delivery and implementation of their platforms and their tools and the integration of data from different sources. But unless they align with business purpose, business value, goals and outcomes, they will not necessarily achieve that value.
"Paradoxically, the way to derive more value from data is not to start with the data," says Alan Duncan, distinguished vice president, research and advisory, at Gartner.
He advises that organizations should start by identifying business use cases. He says organizations should take an "outside-in way of thinking," which is akin to "a design thinking approach" applied to data and analytics.
"But it starts with the dialog and the conversation about what are we trying to achieve as a business or an organization," he says.
In this video interview with Information Security Media Group, Duncan also discusses:
- How business and technology leaders can identify business value from data;
- Communication challenges between stakeholders;
- What it takes to create and execute good data literacy.
Duncan is distinguished vice president for data and analytics strategy and chief data and analytics officer (CDAO) at Gartner. His areas of specialization and interest are data-driven business transformation, data literacy, and culture and influencing the organizational, cultural, and behavioral change impacts arising from an evidence-based/analytic approach to digital business. His interests also include data and analytics strategies and operating models (including specific considerations for midsized enterprises); business value of data and analytics; identifying, communicating, and realizing business outcomes and value (including treating information as an asset and data monetization).
Brian Pereira: Hi, I'm Brian Pereira, director, global news desk, at the Information Security Media Group. And joining me today is Alan Duncan, distinguished VP analyst at Gartner. Hello, Alan. Nice to meet you once again.
Alan Duncan: Hi, Brian. Good to see you again. Thank you.
Pereira: Alan and I are discussing data-led business transformation and data literacy. Alan, we know that today, organizations are grappling with the problem of excessive data, aggregating data from different sources, and trying to gain insights from it. And all the business leaders are talking about deriving business value from data. So how do we go about showing the business value from data, and how critical is this for achieving business transformation?
Duncan: So paradoxically, I think the way to derive more value from data is not to start with the data. Data and analytics practitioners, as you see, will focus a lot on the delivery and the implementation of their platforms and their tools, and the integrations of data from different sources. But unless you're connecting with the business purpose, the business value, the business goal, the business outcome, then you're not necessarily going to achieve that value. So I would advise starting with trying to identify business use cases: what are the business questions that we're trying to ask? Do we have the ability to answer those questions using the data? And then as a result of answering those questions, and what we've learned from that insight and analysis, what would we do in terms of taking action to receive a different business result? So this is an outside-in way of thinking, a design thinking approach almost applied to data and analytics, but it starts with the dialogue and the conversation about what are we trying to achieve as a business or an organization.
Pereira: So, it's about the business use cases that we need to be thinking, that's what you're saying.
Pereira: Now, within the DNA organization, Alan, there are diverse roles - there are creators and consumers of content. And when all these people are working closely together, there could be certain communication challenges within the various stakeholders internally. Because there are diverse roles, can you tell us what are some of those communication challenges?
Duncan: Technical people tend to talk in technical language. They think about the questions of what am I building, and how am I going to build it? Whereas the business conversation is about why are we doing these things? Who are we doing them for? And then from an analytics point of view, how would we know if we're being successful? So we need to be able to find ways of translating from the technical view - what and how - to the business view - why and for whom. And also in the other direction. Why are we doing these things and for whom? How would we know? And therefore back to the what are we trying to deliver from a technical implementation point of view. Now, that means that there's investment required in learning how to communicate with each other. Paradoxically, it possibly means that the business community needs to start understanding and learning more about how the technology works. The technologists probably need to learn more about the business context and the reasons why we're involved in certain projects or certain delivery. You can then anchor each of the individual contributors in terms of their own specific role. But we need to be able to come together and understand each other. And that takes investment of time. And a little bit of shared understanding and willingness to recognize that it's okay if we're not necessarily communicating well yet. Let's keep talking.
Pereira: Could you give us the recommendations to improve the communication among the stakeholders.
Duncan: One very clear recommendation is to invest in helping people learn what you might call the soft skills. Soft skills are hard and difficult. But things like active listening, facilitation skills, being able to run ideation workshops and collaboration, investing in methodologies like DevOps and agile, are all ways of bringing people together. Co-creating solutions that address opportunities and problems, rather than seeing it as a hierarchical situation where this is my job, that is your job. And we're separating and segregating our duties. One of the major cultural changes that comes with well-delivered data and analytics is that it's a far less hierarchical situation. It's not functional and task and job related. It's about problem solving and coming together to identify those problems and deal with them. Flat structures and building communication skills and soft skills within the team. And probably, that also requires some individual kind of akin to perhaps what you might see as a scrum master, if we were adopting those kinds of agile methodologies. We kind of want a data and analytics translator, whose role is to facilitate the communication around the team and keep everybody involved in the dialogue.
Pereira: Those are very good recommendations. Thank you for that. Now, Alan, you've also spoken about data literacy and the need for organizations to have a data literacy program. Can you explain, for our audience, what exactly do you mean by a data literacy program? What does that encompass?
Duncan: If you consider that data literacy at its basic level is the ability to read and write and interpret and act upon the data, the information or the insights in a particular business context. And it's a gap in our business skill set in many cases. The folks that have the ability to interpret and understand information in context are not necessarily sufficient in number to have that critical mass to be able to have an influence. And what we're finding is the organizations are recognizing this, which is great. And then seeing so how do we develop our workforce and foster the skills and competencies to be ready for 21st century digital business, where so much data is being generated, as you said up front, and that means we have to look at the training, the coaching, the hiring, planning, and the other talent management of our people and our workforce. The technical people need to understand more, like I say about the business context, and there's education there to help them engage and work with the business context of what the data means. And from a business point of view, it often means having more understanding of how the technology platforms work. But we probably also need to work with our business colleagues to foster more curiosity, critical thinking and creativity to help shift the conversation from what do I do and how do I do it to why are we doing these things and what are we trying to achieve? What purpose am I trying to serve by making my contribution?
Pereira: Alan, can you share any good examples of data literacy program that you've seen elsewhere in organizations?
Duncan: I've got to be careful, Brian, because of the confidentiality questions. But there have been several financial services institutions that I've been working with, and my colleagues have been working with, where this recognition that if we have smarter people, then we will do better business has been an important factor in driving business success. We've also seen and I can mention this one because it's a published Gartner case study. Kraft Heinz, global food and consumer goods manufacturer, invests significantly in their data literacy and uplift, starting with grassroots development of their people and their staff in the line of business, to ensure that folks have got more of that situational awareness of what data they're using, and why they're using that data in the purpose and in course of their role. And then making sure that then ties to the measurable business outcomes that they're trying to achieve - in Kraft's case supply chain efficiency, understanding of markets and so on.
Pereira: Well, thank you so much for sharing those case studies of business scenarios with us, Alan.
Duncan: I would just mention one more thing here, Brian, that although they're slightly behind the adoption curve, but we're starting to see data literacy become increasingly important as an agenda for public sector and government organizations as well. And so this is not just a discussion for commercial business. It has important implications also for public service. And that's worth bearing in mind.
Pereira: So Alan, it was wonderful talking with you today. And thanks for sharing all your insights and recommendations.
Duncan: Thank you very much, Brian. My absolute pleasure, and thanks for your time today.
Pereira: For the Information Security Media Group, I'm Brian Pereira. Thanks for watching.