Data is one of the most important areas of focus for a CIO and his/her technology team. For years, the principal focus for IT, in partnership with the business, was enabling processes that drive the business. That IT focus has now intensified around the data derived from those processes. From a CIO’s perspective, it’s a great time to be in the “Data Game.” The attention is there, investment funds are flowing, and there’s plenty of technology to help you deliver a great solution. So now, for the real problem: it’s all a trap!
"Based on the size of the investment you are making and the data’s real potential to improve your business, you can’t just leave it to chance or abdicate the responsibility"
Fast forward several years, and you've delivered an amazingly creative data strategy and implemented industry-leading analytical tools. It’s time for ribbon cutting, receiving your CIO awards, and popping premium champagne. So why are your shareholders and business partners thinking it was the biggest waste of money since Y2K?
Data and technology in and of itself isn’t a panacea. You don't sell one more widget by virtue of having data, and you don't drive five more points of productivity just because you have well-constructed data stores. All of your hard work will become just another technology artifact unless your organization engages in using new capabilities and achieve high user adoption. You can’t win with these types of investments by simply getting the 12 data wonks in the company to use your new platform and application…you need the business to transform its relationship with the data. But don't panic. There is a way to work your way back into the good graces of the shareholders and business leadership. Quite simply, you have to lead.
You can’t just develop and go away; you have to engage in converting the organization to a new relationship with your data and analysis tools. For the majority of your organization, math is not their first love, and in reality, most abhor statistical analysis. Deal with it! This new data reality represents more of an opportunity to fail than a boost to succeed for those who differentiated themselves based on their knowledge of the market, technical expertise, and relationships with customers. In their minds, this new data reality minimizes what has driven their success and forces them to play a new game they are not equipped to win. You have to focus on driving acceptance and real user adoption in order to ever have your technical brilliance get reflected in the business metrics that matter. So you must lead them into this new reality if you really want your data strategy to ever pay off. Here’s how…
► Localize the platform. No, I don’t mean move it to their office or home. I mean make this big data apparatus work at the local level by working with the local teams to understand their core business challenges. Then, use that insight to frame a series of hypotheses relevant to their local business, and show them how to prove or disprove those hypotheses with the new data. You have to make this enterprise level platform feel relevant to their local issues to get the user adoption rates high enough to make your investment a good one.
► Engage the users with eye candy. No, I don’t mean anything your mind gravitated to when you read “eye candy.” I actually mean invest in the UI/UX, because you win adoption by getting folks to lean in and try your new platform. But more importantly, you really win when you get them excited enough to come back again and dig deeper into the capabilities of the platform or analytics applications. Present them the solution in a way that neutralizes their fears and excites their imaginations. You can then start with deliberate planning in the UI/UX area.
► Advantage the converts. Make it beneficial to the early adopters by working with the business leadership to frame performance metrics to benefit those who leverage the data effectively to improve their business. Set the game up for converts to win because that’s the only way the late movers will be motivated beyond their fears to step forward and give it a shot.
► Dominate the discussion with fresh data. In your strategy, you’ve made the data available through a multitude of modalities. You’ve increased the cycle of data updates to your operational and primary databases. You’ve even set up dashboards and reports to help the business talk in near real time. So why in the world would you let your business continue to print reports for the morning meeting or make a product decision based on last month’s projections? This may be the hardest of habits to break. The goal is to move the organization toward a consistent leveraging of “fresh” data. You know you’ve reached that point when you walk into a meeting with nothing but a laptop or device to drive the debate and the data is on-screen, live, and relevant.
My strategy to lead includes taking practical steps to make the million-dollar investments in your data renaissance pay off for the business and the shareholders. Don’t sell your strategy short by failing to take the next step—to drive engagement and adoption of the new platform and applications your team has put into place to help the business. This is not a time to stick to the arbitrary boundaries of tradition and say, “well it’s the business’ responsibility to drive the adoption.” Based on the size of the investment you are making and the data’s real potential to improve your business, you can’t just leave it to chance or abdicate the responsibility. You have to step in and lead if you want to get the real payoff.