Posted 18th January 2016 by APSIS

Data Adolescence: How to avoid becoming a ‘Kevin’ or ‘Perry’

A report recently published by The Economist looks into how companies are managing the initial excitement around Big Data and turning it into real business impact. They use the phrase ‘data adolescence’.
Although the amount of companies with a well-defined data strategy is still frighteningly low, we are increasingly seeing a number of organisations in the early stages of implementation and adoption. These are the ones The Economist identifies as ‘data adolescents’.
On first noticing the term, I have to say the image of ‘Kevin and Perry‘ instantly jumped into my head! Although on further reflection, adolescence is a poignant and effective word to describe an essential stage of development. It’s how you move through it that counts…
What are the attributes of being a ‘data adolescent’?
There are four hallmarks of a data adolescent organisation:
1. Management leads the way…
Obviously the first one has to be an organisation where there is an increasing elevation of the stature and ownership of a data strategy. In short, if the management haven’t clicked then it ain’t happening. If, however, the management is bought in, the organisation is on the path.
2. A focus on turning insight into action
Second is an increasing and strong focus on the relevance of data and analytics and how those translate into tangible and measurable business results. Although the need may have been recognised, typical data adolescents will not be entirely clear on where or how the insights should be best used.
I often hear this expressed in meetings as, “the new CEO says we need to work smarter or change.” But what does this mean in practice? The CEO may not understand the detail and the floor managers may not see the bigger picture.
3. Ownership from above, energy from below…
Typically the ownership of data strategy and the sponsorship of data initiatives will have evolved through a legacy structure often reflected in IT centralised ownership. Equally it may have developed into fractured ownership across online and offline, digital, email, SCV, CRM being among common ‘owners’.
But all the pull and energy is increasingly coming from the lower levels of the corporate pyramid, from those who are hands-on.
4. Legacy IT infrastructure cannot accommodate the data democracy
As a result the data strategy has become everybody’s business. Managers across the enterprise all try to get into the driving seat, frustrated that they can no longer rely on the CIO or CTO to design and execute what they need in a top-down and timely manner. And let’s not even speak about the costs of availing this data!
Data needs to be accessible to those who need it most, without overloading or disrupting existing IT systems. The problem is that legacy systems are not in line with the bottom-up energy flow – they are not built to deal with instant demand and response. Businesses need to find an agile way to access data at the point of need, without interrupting various batch processes.
The disconnect typically happens in the middle, and the challenge is to make the data flow from top to bottom.
How to avoid becoming a Kevin/Perry
As always seems to be the case, every problem needs an acronym to solve it. So here it is: CDO, or Chief Data Officer. This is the man or woman responsible for ‘integrated data leadership’.
In our experience we often find a Super User who sits at the heart of the data structure. Super Users could act as the go-between in the absence of a CDO, as long as they are sufficiently commercially aware.
Super User or CDO, the individual responsible needs to be focused on 3 things:
Availability and integrity of data across the organisation
Driving adoption—from small-scale pilots to company-wide rollouts
Driving the monetisation of new data capabilities
The individual should also have a thorough technical understanding, a strong commercial nous… and being a political wiz certainly wouldn’t hurt!
Having a CDO or Super User looks like the best way to moving through the Adolescence phase of data maturity.
How data-adolescent is your organisation?
We have worked closely with our own extensive client base to develop a tried and tested workshop that addresses the data disconnect. These workshops help you to identify areas of the big data landscape that need to be liberated for maximum return on investment, and allow you to benchmark your organisation against others who are going through the same process.
Feel free to get in touch with our experts if you would like to know more.