How to become more adaptable when it comes to data

Barry Green is a specialist in data and worked as a Chief Data Officer for HSBC, Bank of Ireland and Allianz Insurance. In a recent HR on the Offensive podcast he spoke to us about a book he has written – Data Means Business: Level up your organisation to adapt, evolve and scale in an ever-changing world – explaining his thoughts on how organisations can get better at interpreting and using their data. Read below to learn about the importance of an organisation’s culture in leveraging data, as well as what HR can learn from building – and being part of – a cross-functional teams leading on data projects.

We are also hosting a webinar on 14th July at 2pm which focuses on how HR teams can get better with using data. If you would like to register for the webinar you can do so here.

Is there too much ‘hype’ around the terminology ‘data’?

I find that there is far too much language surrounding data that individuals are unsure of. Demystifying that language and putting data strategies into plain English was one of the reasons we wrote the book. “Data” is an esoteric term because it means a million different things to a million different people. Data means spreadsheets, information stored on mobile phones, spreadsheets across an organisation and it is because of this generic term of ‘data’ that often has individuals and businesses struggling to deliver effective approaches to the use of their data.

As a consequence of this, what we see is that accountability for data is also devolved. The ownership of accountability for data should sit across multiple business functions, but what I’ve seen in my career is that data has often just been passed to the IT function as their problem to fix.

‘Process’ before ‘data’

Organisations will often lament that their data isn’t delivering what it needs to for them. They will often speak to me about being a ‘data guy’ and ‘fixing our data’ and when I am confronted with that mindset I find that it is the first element that needs to change. I challenge businesses to think about ‘process’ before ‘data’; in other words, asking yourself the questions “What are your key processes and what is broken about those processes?”.

What creates data? A process creates data. A process gives data context and so if you are looking at the challenges you are facing with your data, you first need to address what processes aren’t delivering what you need. Most systems implementations that I have come across that have failed have not been because of the system, but because of the processes that were not effectively scoped out before the system was embedded. Understanding how those process handoffs work and how the data evolves is critical to any successful system implementation.

What are the behaviours that underpin a culture of a business that are successful in managing their data?

Data can connect an organisation and can be a driver of culture change within an organisation. It connects different ecosystems – in the form of departments, for example – but what is key to success for any organisation is ownership. Many individuals in business engage with data from a reporting perspective; that is where they believe they see data, when in reality it is all of the work that happens before that information hits the report that is essential. Therefore, the accurate input, management and most importantly, understanding of a collective ownership amongst employees within a business is the key to businesses getting better with their data. Everyone is responsible for data in an organisation, they are responsible for understanding the processes as well as understanding their place in the process as well as what data flows through that process.

When organisations start to apply that collective ownership approach to data then you start to embed a culture of change which enables a business to effectively manage its data.

You can separate data between what the employee truly owns and what they are responsible for maintaining. For example, through self-service versus what the HR and line manager would ‘own’, like compensation, benefits, and who your line manager is. Getting that ownership right and understood and giving people the tools to maintain the accuracy of that data is important.

The importance of creating cross-functional teams to take a holistic view of data:

If you need to know how many products have been sold, by who, across which geographies, at what margin, that becomes a complex information set you can run your business on. The value of cross-functional teams with regards to data is therefore vital because often in that example I give above, you are looking at a variety of different data sets across the business, so organisations that operate in data silo’s may find it difficult to bring their data together into a meaningful data set that the organisation can use to assess its performance.

Do you need help with your data management processes? You can contact us directly here and we’d be happy to help or provide advice and guidance.