These days many companies are realizing the fact that data should be playing a bigger role in decision making in every department. But, most of them are not doing what is necessary to actually become a data-driven company. There are many books that talk about this subject, as well as numerous blogs, consultants and other resources. In this post I’m giving an introduction and a base reference on how and why you should take a data driven approach when taking decisions. Going from opinion-driven company to data-driven.
Let’s start with the current company culture. An opinion-driven company is where decisions are taking based on someone’s OPINION. The person in charge of taking a decision might recall past experiences or trust a hunch in order to make the call. This can sometimes work, but the risk of failing is high.
You will also find comments like “this is the way we have always done things” or “I don’t need data, I have enough experience”. The worst one is the silent thoughts of “this thing will leave me out of my job”. I totally disagree with all of them.
On the other hand, you have companies that rely on what the data is telling them. Instead of saying “I think older people don’t surf the web”, they just look at the facts. The facts that show who has actually surfed the web in the past 7 days, broken down by age ranges.
Let me give you an example to show how different these 2 approaches are. Let’s imagine you’re driving back home from work and it’s going to be a 45 minute commute. The drive is long enough, that it gives place for unexpected events and turn it into a 90 minute trip. And of course, you know every shortcut there is in case you see traffic far ahead. What you don’t know is, where is the traffic going to be. So, it’s just a matter of luck that every turn you take is free of cars. And you’re hoping you’ll get home in the expected 45 minutes.
Then one day you get tired of guessing and you start using your GPS with traffic data. The GPS has more ‘knowledge’ about your commute than you do. So, you enter the drive information into it and trust the directions it will give you. This doesn’t guarantee that you will actually get in 45 minutes, but that if you do follow the GPS, you will get home as fast as possible.
So, how do you go from being opinion-driven to data-driven. It is not a trivial thing to pursue. But, I’ve been there, and it’s possible. There are several steps to be taken, and sometimes we have to repeat them until we can go forward to the next.
Identify who the customers are
The customers can be external, like company’s customers or internal, like company’s directors. The first thing to do is to identify who are we dealing with because each user has a different personality and different needs.
Set up initial presentations to “get to know each other”
The initial approach has to come from the BI team. The other party might not be interested, so we have to start somewhere. Setting an initial meeting has to come with the message like a “peace offering”. We are assuming from the start that the potential customer might not want to change their mind, so we have to be prepared.
Usually, that first meeting might not go as good as you would like, but it’s a start. The whole idea is to “help” our counterparts with data. We are here to provide them with data and dashboards so they can take better decisions. So, unless we can get them to see this, we can’t go forward to the next step.
A very good way to soften the atmosphere is to start asking questions about how they do what they do. Have them explain their day to day, including the challenges they face. Once you get to the challenges and problems, that’s where you should try and identify how your data could make their life easier.
Build a POC or prototype
Once you got enough information from your customer, it’s time to build prototype (graphs, dashboards, reports, etc) to show them. So, we then set up a second meeting to show them what we got. Once they see this, everything starts changing because now they can see the benefit from your work.
But, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. The negative side can come out if someone thinks that your work will put them out of a job, because of all the time they spend creating reports and now they will be automated. It’s up to you to also identify the opportunities they will have by not having to do all that work.
Repeat the process
As you go getting more requirements and delivering more insights, you will learn more about what your customers do and how they handle their “business”. So, once they accept your help, it’s repeating process where you will get to know them better, propose graphs and dashboards, deliver, and make them happy again.
In order for this process to work, whoever is leading the meetings has be very patient. Usually business and technology live in different worlds. So, the time it takes to soften the business side will be different for every case. When those worlds come together and combine it can be a very powerful force.