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Director Interview: Culture shock — How to create a genuinely data-driven culture

Tue 11 Feb 2020 | Lorenzo Bavasso

BT’s Lorenzo Bavasso describes the challenges of creating a genuinely data-driven culture and provides insight into ways that businesses can start to change

“Terms like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are so overused nowadays, that the reaction they generate is increasingly: ‘OK…so what?’” That’s according to Lorenzo Bavasso, Director of Data Analytics & AI at BT Global Services. Despite all the hype around data in recent years, genuinely embedding data and analysis into an organisation’s culture continues to prove elusive for many.

Bavasso’s work at the front line of this field has given him some unique insights into the realities of creating a data-driven culture – which he will be sharing in detail at Big Data & AI World London in March. Fortunately, with “curiosity, transparency, an open mind and will to share information” companies can start the journey to creating an authentically data-driven culture.

Data in your day-to-day

What do we mean when we talk about a ‘data-driven culture’? For Bavasso, it means “the organisation has the right mindset and skillset to consider data not just as an enabler, but a core component of every outcome, decision and process”. He says that this is about more than simply providing some clever software that can crunch the numbers. Rather, it’s about every team in every department considering how work and tasks can be improved and enhanced with the correct tools.

While he reckons that “there has to be data literacy distributed in the organisation”, not everyone is expected to be a data scientist. Rather, “everyone has to feel enabled to ask smart questions knowing there are capabilities in the organisation to answer them through data”. The head of sales doesn’t need to be a maths whizz, for instance, but they do need someone on their team who can use a tool that displays accurate revenue projections.

Join Lorenzo at Big Data & AI World, 11-12 March, ExCeL London

Data-driven culture – educating the workforce
12 March 2020, 11:50 – 12:15
Big Data & AI Keynote

Bavasso compares this data literacy to modern map reading. “In the past, you consulted a map in when planning a trip in the hours before leaving. Nowadays, everyone uses navigation systems all the time, even to go to places they know, because it’s easy and can give you the added value of traffic information”. In the same way, every team in a business should have some inkling of how to use data analysis tools in everything they do: “every function should have data as an integrated part of their strategy, rather than leaning on a centralised data strategy”.

Creating the culture

In Bavasso’s view, knowledge of how to deal with data is scattered across the business. He acknowledges, however, that this is “a significant cultural shift”. In the past, companies created “silos which were protected by processes and engagement rules, and to break this organisational model is a major challenge”. Moving from this approach to one where each and every department is empowered to conduct analysis and number-crunching requires a real change in mentality.

All the same, it is worth trying: “I have seen the cultural shift happening and driving interest, then curiosity, then growing demand and adoption of the Data and Analytics capabilities in very different parts of the organisation.” In Bavasso’s experience, once you “generate and show value in one place, the mood changes and then the new challenge is to be ready to scale and ‘roll out’ the culture”. The more that employees see how becoming data-driven helps other teams, the more they will want to integrate data know-how into their own work.

That said, it’s not always a smooth process. “It is easy to excite senior leadership in the beginning, but execution is the challenge because middle management and business/technical teams are way more resistant to change, so it is a difficult ‘door to door’ exercise to get moving”. Any business leader who has attempted to instigate a change in their organisation will certainly recognise such obstacles.

For Bavasso, the “key to succeed is to focus and lead by example”. He suggests that “while defining and executing the wider strategy, it is crucial to focus on a few key valuable use cases and achieve an outcome, accepting some waste and inefficiency in doing so”. This goes back to the point made earlier. Perhaps the best way to create cultural change in a business is by launching specific projects with specific teams and demonstrating success. This serves as inspiration to other departments who will want to find out how to use the tools and processes themselves.

Then, it’s as much about about appropriate training as it is about using one specific ‘Big Data’ tool or another. “Data skills have to be deployed to the team and the workplace culture has to enable multiple skills to work together for a common outcome”. This is about finding the right individuals in different teams and training them to understand how to use data to solve common problems – and how to crunch the numbers to generate value.

How do you know if this culture change has been a success, then? ‘Culture’ is of course a fairly tricky thing to measure. Nonetheless, Bavasso is confident there are many ways that businesses can assess they are doing. He argues that the most obvious place to start “is quantitative value that has been driven by data”. Has your R&D team filed more patents this year? Has the finance department discovered efficiencies which saved extra money? Are your marketing people generating more leads?

More broadly, Bavasso says there are several “KPIs to measure your data maturity level”. This might include “skills, technology, amount of innovation, quality of the data”. He adds that “it’s not one aspect or the other; to be data driven you need to address them all.”

Culture vulture

The potential that data analysis can offer organisations is huge, and so creating a culture where teams across the business know how to use and benefit from that data is invaluable. And while talk of data can sometimes seem abstract, Bavasso argues that “there is no better way than showing a concrete, measurable outcome to get an organisation behind a strategy to become fully data-driven”.

Experts featured:

Lorenzo Bavasso

Data, Analytics and AI Director, CTIO
BT Global Services


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