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Q&A: How CIOs Can Build a Data-Centric Culture With Andrew Beers, CTO, Tableau

The acceleration in digital transformation across industries in 2020 has been nothing short of astounding, with projects that were expected to roll out over a few years happening much more quickly. Such speedy innovation relies on technologists and their teams pulling out all the stops, as well as on an underlying culture that embraces data-driven decision-making, innovative approaches, and the idea of launching before testing and iterating.  

We sat down with Tableau CTO Andrew Beers to chat about the role of a data culture in enabling innovation, how CIOs can build a data-centric culture in their organisations, and how data and real-time insights can empower an entire business, rather than being hidden within the IT function.

Why is a data culture so important – why should the CIO look to build that culture?

Andrew Beers: Given the challenges of this year, organisations are increasingly coming under pressure to be decisive and there is less room for error. That’s why embedding a ‘data culture’ into organisations is becoming a high priority for many CIOs.

Simply put, a data culture requires all staff and decision-makers to make decisions and changes according to data.

Data culture works in a couple of ways, and the most important is building an understanding of how to use data well. You have to start with the goals and the outcomes you want, and work backwards to ensure you’re accessing the right data you need for those outcomes. Doing that well takes a really good data culture.

Companies that can use data effectively in this way will see that the vast majority of their work is informed by data – every team is empowered and enabled to make decisions and take impactful actions.

They’ll actually be a data company, with tools such as Tableau used enterprise-wide and strategically relevant use cases for data insights across the business – from people and culture, customer service,  sales and marketing, reporting and forward planning, or risk management and finance.

They’ll also use data in really interesting ways, not just to segment and better understand trends and patterns in specific markets, but also to create learnings and recognise commonalities between various markets, to achieve better outcomes for their customers.

That shift for a business – to thinking of itself as a data company – would be a big change for most organisations. Do you think such great change should be achieved through incremental change or full-scale transformation?

Andrew: Getting to a place you wouldn’t have got to otherwise – making a great shift – is the domain of transformation. You just wouldn’t expect that through an incremental approach.

Now though, the old-style ‘transformation project’ doesn’t cut it – constant change is required to meet customers’ and stakeholders’ ever-higher expectations.

That’s where there’s very much room for both transformation and ongoing incremental improvement – transformation makes the change, then it’s through incremental improvement you continue to reach higher, to go from good to really great.

And data actually plays an important role in both. In the former, it can help you decide which transformation path to choose; in the latter, it can help you figure out what is delivering improvement and what is not.

We hear from organisations that they’re data rich and knowledge poor. How would this be hindering their ability to improve or adapt?

Andrew: If I have a bunch of data that’s not appropriate for answering a specific question, then it doesn’t matter that I have that data.

As I said earlier, you need to start with the outcomes and work backwards to identify what data you need rather than sucking up all the available data and hoping it will reveal a helpful truth.

You have to think through the questions you need answered (that is, the analytics) and ensure your data supports answering them. This is the core of data literacy and a strong data culture: when you match data to a problem that needs solving, then that data can be turned into knowledge or action.

There are also some fundamentals that need to be in place. One is around identifying the master repository for certain types of data. Often, one of the reasons you can’t rely on data is because you don’t know if you’re using the most accurate or the most up-to-date set.

Another is the tools. Data richness and knowledge paucity may be a symptom of tools that aren’t providing – or being used to provide – the necessary insights. Sure you can visualise your data to get some basic summaries, but valuable outcomes require tools that let you shift perspectives, ask the next question, bring in other data and share those results.

How then can CIOs use their influence and expertise to change a wealth of data into a wealth of knowledge, for the right outcomes?

Andrew: The CIO is the one defining the standards, defining the governance, securing and protecting the data, and providing those tools that help all stakeholders use the data beyond those basic summaries – to shift perspectives, collaborate and ask that next question.

The CIO is the executive champion of change. You need somebody up there in the C-suite who can influence across multiple functions, champion data culture, champion people using data properly and make data a part of every conversation that the leadership team has.

What about employee experience – what is the impact on business users of having secure, easy-to-use tools for data analysis?

Andrew: Security and ease of use are both important – security more so to the IT team and usability more so to the end user – and this is far more important currently than was previously the case.

On the usability front, tech used outside the business has changed much faster than tech inside the business. People have grown used to excellent, simple, secure technology, so if that’s not available in the business, it’s frustrating.

The APAC Employee Engagement Report shares insights to support IT and people leaders as their businesses accelerate to growth.

Andrew Beers is CTO at Tableau.

Salesforce Staff

The 360 Blog from Salesforce teaches readers how to improve work outcomes and professional relationships. Our content explores the mindset shifts, organizational hurdles, and people behind business evolution. We also cover the tactics, ethics, products, and thought leadership that make growth a meaningful and positive experience.

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