What is data culture?

In the modern big data landscape, most business leaders take it for granted that data should be at the core of every decision-making process. But while our heads might be telling us to watch the data, 74% of execs still go with their gut when it comes to making business decisions.

There must be something blocking decision makers from doing what they know is right. But what is the problem? It’s not that we don’t have enough data — after all, the average organisation is tapped into over 400 data sources. It’s not that we don’t have enough tools for data management or business intelligence — recent estimates value the global data management market at over $82 billion.

If we have the data and we have the tools, then the source of these business problems must be something deeper: organisational culture.

It’s not enough to say that we want to be more data-driven. If leaders really want to apply data to improve business processes and enterprise decision-making, then they must invest in establishing a culture of data across their organisation.

Definition of data culture

A data culture is the collective behaviours and beliefs of employees who share a common understanding about enterprise data and use data for their decisions and operations — in a way that is compliant with both internal policies and external regulations.

Culture is just one part of an organization’s overall data health, Talend’s vision for improving data’s impact on business objectives. Data is healthy if it is easily discoverable, understandable, and of value to the people that need to use it, and these characteristics are sustained throughout its lifecycle. In combination with data agility and data trust, data culture is a cornerstone of healthy data.

The difference between data culture and data governance

Maintaining an effective, shared data culture requires an ever-shifting balancing act between control, compliance, and data access. As data ownership moves from the exclusive hand of IT into lines of business, companies struggle to implement and enforce organisation-wide policies that balance data access with end-to-end control and compliance.

Without control over enterprise data, the entire organisation could be at risk. Gartner predicts that, by 2023, 65% of the world’s population will have their personal data covered under privacy regulations, such as GDPR or CCPA. That means the penalties for a company that fails to protect its sensitive data may be subject to an increasing array of increasingly steep fines.

But the legal penalties are only the start. For many organisations, the real danger is the reputational cost of a data breach. And they’re right to be concerned. When a data breach happens, 62% of customers blame the company first — and 20% of them will never return.

Even facing these terrifying consequences, 80% of organizations are still too lax with data access, extending more privileges than users need to do their jobs. Every day, it becomes more and more important for businesses to simultaneously protect their customers and empower their employees. This collection of processes, roles, policies, standards, and metrics to ensure the effective and efficient use of information is known as data governance.

Governance is an important part of data culture, because it provides the framework for organisations to balance the need for data control and the necessity of removing gatekeepers to enable data democratisation and expedite the broad use of data. But data culture itself is a far larger initiative, touching every aspect of business life and every employee and data user.

The importance of data literacy

In addition to data governance, a strong data culture depends on everyone having the skills to understand, share, and use data. Compared to data novices, employees with high data literacy are 50% more likely to feel empowered and trusted to make better business decisions.

But too often, executives overestimate the level of data literacy in their organisation. In a recent survey, 70% of C-Suite execs believed that their employees had the requisite data proficiency — when, in fact, just 21% of employees were confident in their data literacy skills.

Data literacy is heavily dependent on context. To get the greatest value from a given dataset, the user must understand where it came from, how it is being interpreted, and who else is drawing from the same data. Having a shared definition of terms and a documented data glossary can improve data literacy across the organisation.

Benefits of a strong data culture

In an increasingly complex data landscape, a lack of data literacy, due to skills gaps or an inconsistent understanding of data across the organisation, has thrown data access and control out of balance. This is characterised by either data gatekeeping with too many restrictions hampering use of data, or a data free-for-all with too much access threatening data quality and compliance. Either situation leads to widespread frustration across the organisation.

A strong data culture is the antidote to all these issues. With a common understanding of the meaning, importance, and applications of enterprise data, the entire organisation is positioned to get the most from its most valuable asset. Here are just a few of the perks of investing in your data culture:

Superior insights

Raw data, by itself, does nothing for the business. But companies with an established data infrastructure can transform that data into valuable business intelligence for the entire organisation. And as the benefits of a data-driven culture become apparent, individual teams and departments will have an increased appetite for data analytics, data visualisations, reports, and dashboards to inform their ongoing decision-making.

Quicker time to action

Everyone knows that a good dashboard is gold — but what if there were something better? Increasingly, businesses are finding ways to apply new data and new data sources directly, without the need for human intervention. Advanced artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms can turn data into action in real time, instead of spending days or weeks weighing options.

Competitive advantage

Data culture lets you unlock the true power of data: getting a critical edge over the competition. By putting data at the centre of everything you do — any by having a common understanding of context and best practises for data usage — you can move faster and make better decisions than companies that still rely on instinct or suffer from fragmented data infrastructure.

Employee empowerment

And last but not least, a strong data culture gives every single employee the power to make data-driven decisions. When the organisation puts data first, employees have access to the right data to do their jobs. That means they can trust the decisions they make and have complete confidence in their chosen course of action.

How do you create a data culture?

One in three executives reports that creating a data-driven culture is a challenge. There is no single answer or magic solution, but a successful strategy for culture change takes all the various stakeholders into account, understanding their needs and where they call in the rollout.

When it comes to data, culture change starts with the data team, IT leaders, and the chief data officer (CDO). They need to establish the organisation-wide data strategy necessary to balance appropriate control of the data with data access that will support the business.

Next, the data culture initiative needs sponsorship and buy-in from the C-suite executives. Exclusively top-down initiatives are rarely successful, but when senior leadership is seen to support the practical strategies and guidelines established by the data team, that carries weight for end users across the organisation.

With a common set of expectations, a common language for data across the organisation, and a shared emphasis on the importance of data for business decisions, it’s easy for the rest of the business to follow suit. Data engineers, data scientists, and data analysts get access to the data they need to work efficiently. Line-of-business data experts and non-technical team members turn to no-code tools to access the right data for their reports, programmes, and campaigns. And, of course, data and IT leaders can continue to create a more data-driven organisation while mitigating risk and staying compliant.

Make data culture a top priority for your organisation

Talend’s unified platform and self-service solutions balance data democratisation with scalable control and compliance, establishing data literacy across the enterprise. Our Data Catalog has advanced capabilities to democratise data access while maintaining a single point of control. Data Preparation engages end users in self-service analytics enablement. And Data Inventory keeps internal processes clean with easy, collaborative dataset documentation.

With Talend, collaborative business glossaries establish a shared language for data — the foundation of data literacy. Sign up for a Talend Data Fabric free trial today to take your next step to a healthier data culture.

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