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4 Fundamentals of Building a Data-Driven Dream Team

From Telco companies and other low-margin businesses looking to prevent fraud and money leakage to sustain and increase their profit margins; to Retailers and Manufacturers looking to gain greater insights into customer behavior and streamlining production, reducing time-to-market and increasing customer satisfaction and product quality; to Financial Services firms seeking to upsell clients; business analytics is now essential for any business looking for competitive advantages.

What do all these businesses have in common? They all face the same challenges and each one of them are going through their own transformation by moving away from traditional business improvement tactics and towards business analytics and data-driven strategies that drive differentiation and deliver measurable results.

First of all, to transform your business into a data-driven company, you will have to deal with four major analytics challenges: Strategic Alignment, Agility, Commitment and Information Maturity.

Success in analytics relies at least as much on People, Organizational Alignment and Process as on the chosen Analytical Tool.

People! This is the most valuable and hard to replace asset that any company can have and this is the asset that you most need on this transformation path. Like any good sports team, you can change your sports gear supplier, you can change the field you play on, you can review your tactics, but to succeed you will always need a good leader, meaningful players, a common goal, and group chemistry.

"Data-driven" is a popular buzzword these days and for a good reason. But what does data-driven really mean? It is the simple term for businesses that make decisions based on data analytics. A significant number of studies show a clear correlation between a company’s propensity to rely on data to make decisions and its profitability, ability to innovate and workforce engagement.

That said, you should now be convinced to transform your company into a data-driven company, but how does an organization actually become data-driven? The answer is: People! While the right technology undoubtedly plays an important role, even the most advanced technology will be useless without the right people to apply it.

Just as in sports, a successful data-driven organization relies not just on few talented and skilled players, but the right mix of players, the right culture to foster innovation and the right coach to lead on. Now, let's take a look at the four fundamental needs for building a data-driven team:

Bring in the Right People

The first step is quite simple! Bring in people who know data. This means people who not only have a strong data background, but who also understand about your organization’s business. Bringing in theoretical mathematicians, statisticians and other academic geniuses that don’t understand your business or your market might be too expensive and unsuccessful and will result in a significant loss of time and effort. On top of that, getting the right people also means hiring and developing people with the right aptitudes, who are team players, intellectually curious and productive.

Sometimes you will find these people within your ranks.  Look for existing IT employees in your company that are also business enthusiasts.  Other times you'll have to seek this talent outside of your organization. Either way there is no shortcut to finding the right people for your data-driven team.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships” - Michael Jordan

Create a Cohesive Team

As you're evaluating individual talent, you will need to step back and make sure you're bringing the right mix of people and skills together to promote cross-functional collaboration. Make sure the team meshes, collaborates and shares ideas and results.

It's the same as building a sports team, hence Michael Jordan’s quote regarding teamwork. You shouldn’t build a basketball team based on one single skill or talent, you need the right mix of talented position players: Point guards, Shooting guards, Small forwards, Power forwards and Centers. If you build a team with only five Shooting guards (even if it was possible to clone five Michael Jordans) you would probably result in failure.

Organizations need meticulous and numbers-driven folks, yet also need those who are creative and throw in crazy ideas. A mixed talented, collaborative and balanced workforce is key to drive organizations though a successful data-driven transformation.  Most of all, you must make sure that all the people in your data-driven dream team are working together as team. The best way is to build a collaborative environment among “data nerds” (no, I won’t use data scientists!), engineers, marketers, sales people, all domain experts that play a significant role in your business, and get all of these parties together to achieve the same goal or business outcome.

Build a Culture of Innovation

To build and foster a culture of innovation you first must build a culture where failure is OK. A data-driven organization must accept failure as part of the innovation and data maturity process. Being a data-driven organization will be useless if you don’t accept the idea that exploring new ideas will lead to failure as it will lead to success at the same rate.

For instance, the first successful Apollo lunar mission under The Apollo Program (1961-1972) took eight years to land men on the moon in 1969 with Apollo 11. The Apollo 13 mission was a failure, and after that another four Apollo missions were successful.

If some ideas aren't failing, there's a good chance that people are approaching these problems with an answer in mind rather then simply using data to support their intuition. People will often do this if they are punished for failure and not promoted with success. To avoid that, the data-driven team needs a culture that promotes the ability to try new things, to innovate and to truly fail in order to reach data and information maturity. The first step is democratic access to data. YES! You need to share your organization’s data! And YES, you need governance to do so!

“A life of frustration is inevitable for any coach whose main enjoyment is winning.” -- Chuck Noll

Find the Right Coach

Finding the right coach to lead the team in a culture where failure is OK, managing executive pressures and then delivering results seems like a Mission Impossible job, but it is not! Finding the right coach will be easy if you have already changed your culture. Organizations need to make sure their data-driven teams enjoy their job and that they are motivated and inspired, as also that they are aligned under the same goal.

The exploration of new ideas and a free thinking environment still need to come with a game plan and real value business outcomes. On top of playing a role in finding the right talent and building the right culture of innovation, the "coach" needs to have the business expertise to know when to call a time out if the team is getting off track.

Don’t take the first step on the path of data-driven transformation just for the sake of being a data-driven organization. You should embrace the transformation, not the buzzword, because there are proven benefits for you and for your organization: more innovation, more engagement and more profits.

Are you ready to start your transformation today?

Article written by Leonardo Couto
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