Creating a data culture is essential to business transformation, but how do you drive this change, especially with limited resources, a shortage of talent, and a vaguely defined mandate?

Ferrazzi Greenlight has partnered with Data Leadership Collaboration to host a CDO roundtable to see how some of the smartest and most progressive CDOs have driven change. I share some of their high-yielding practices that we can all apply to embed data analytics and create a vibrant data culture.

Culture change requires both a push and a pull

To create a data culture, some leaders have championed centralized, top-down models that involve substantial investments in data analytics talent, datasets, and software that are deployed across the enterprise. Others have encouraged decentralized approaches in which business units are encouraged to pursue their own initiatives, in the hope that their successes will foster corporate competition.

CDOs have navigated both of these worlds, with mixed results. With centralized models, business units can be slow to adopt, so data initiatives risk losing executive sponsorship. With decentralized approaches, successes are often seen as insignificant or irrelevant to other parts of the business. “Centralization and decentralization are things I struggle with every day,” said one CDO during our roundtable.

What I learned in our workshop is that creating a data culture involves driving data access and demand – both a push from the center and a pull from the business units. NFL director of data and analytics Paul Ballew has argued for a push and pull model that essentially serves a human resources function: Funding and corporate executive support support a core team of experts in data and process science who serve as internal consultants who coach and push. Similarly, Caroline Nealon, vice president, Product Data Management & Analytics at Ameriprise Financial, views her team as an enabling organization that promotes new behaviors across the company.

In this model, business units – not the CDO – are responsible for reporting the financial results of investments in data analytics. This means that all key departments must have at least a basic level of data literacy, said Sreeram Potukuchi, director of enterprise data at Republic Services, to ensure strong collaboration with the central data team and guarantee the business relevance of data projects. At a minimum, departments need to at least know what kind of assistance to take away from the center so they can pursue more transformational projects while honing their data literacy muscles.

Here are some high-performance practices data managers can use to foster a push-and-pull data culture.

  • Bring line of business data managers into the central data analytics group to serve as push-pull channels with business units.
  • Integrate central office data stewards into business units.
  • Build data literacy and encourage push-pull collaborations with rotating assignments of data support teams.
  • Form an advisory board to demonstrate value, ensure accountability, and keep the CEO and board informed of often disparate, yet strategic, long-term initiatives.

Finance is a great first customer

CFOs repeatedly tell me that data is critical to business planning and success, while recounting their challenges in creating a data culture and data culture. Push-pull collaboration can solve this problem. “To create a data-driven organization, we’ve found finance to be a great place to start,” said Sandeep Davé, chief digital and technology officer at CBRE.

Finance teams are data-driven and constantly looking to reduce paperwork, costs, and gain efficiencies. In their quest for transformation, CFOs are especially predisposed to seek out opportunities to hire data scientists to streamline operational reporting and manage and understand the data they generate. Accounting teams, internal audit and tax departments are also ripe for automation. For such scenarios, “we give them tools,” says Potukuchi.

I think the business planning process is another great opportunity to build data literacy and change company culture. At this point, Ravi Prasad, global head of data and AI strategy and operations at Novartis, noted that CIOs have partnered with CFOs to reinvent business planning, especially in organizations. where the planning process is particularly complex. CDOs then have the opportunity to enter the game. Indeed, noted Ballew, CDOs increasingly report to CFOs.

But CBRE’s Davé adds that it’s also important to look beyond finance: “You need to expand your reach to serve all constituents, people and operations, to improve data availability and accuracy. “

Consider these high-yield practices for building data literacy and a data culture in finance:

  • Pay attention to time horizons. Creating a data culture, like any transformation, is a long journey. But the business units work within the framework of quarterly reports and P&L. Multi-year, multi-million dollar big data projects will be cut back if they are not seen to be running at the speed of business. Instead, take on practical, short-term projects to build confidence and momentum, says Prasad. “It doesn’t have to be extreme AI or rocket science.”
  • Speak the language of business. Potukuchi put it this way, “Big data, small data, who cares?” Instead of talking about your technical prowess, tell stories about business results in terms of operational productivity, cost reduction, consumer satisfaction and revenue growth. Sponsors and partners need to clearly understand what they are getting from their investments.

Leverage your burgeoning data culture as a talent magnet

Data on the big quit shows that part of the upheaval is due to workers’ desire to have more engagement and impact at work – something Mike Clementi, executive vice president of human resources at Unilever, called “The great exploration.” But earning one or both doesn’t necessarily require quitting your job or business, especially if the business is digital native. If not, the company will struggle to attract and retain tech talent because younger workers don’t want to struggle with old-fashioned ways. They want to work with the latest technology platforms and rich data. And they want to make a difference.

Since talent is one of the most challenging issues for CDOs, data leadership offers great opportunities for aspirants and entrepreneurs to engage and transform the business. When data stewards tell interesting stories (in team meetings, town hall meetings, or in newsletters), they can engage and attract entrepreneurial talent from across the company.

For CEOs and Boards of Directors, fostering data literacy and creating a data culture should be seen as a way to create long-term value. That said, data-driven transformation doesn’t require hiring large teams of expensive data scientists. Instead, retain the talent you already have through development programs. Constantyn Chalitsios, CDO at Westlake Chemical, recommends fostering the formation of “citizen data scientists” across the company through experiential learning.

To attract talent, data leaders can use these high-return practices:

  • Embrace a clear and compelling data literacy mission that connects with people’s desire to make an impact. CBRE’s Davé said, “We have stated that our goal is to ensure that our customers and service professionals have the right information at the right time.
  • Take every opportunity to talk about your mission, such as in team meetings, in company newsletters, and in town halls. “Engage people and create a spark that makes them think, ‘Hey, this is something I want to be a part of and can contribute to,'” Chalitsios said.

For years, CDOs have struggled to awaken their organizations to the criticality and power of data to transform business. The tips they learned along the way can help us all.