Company culture: the difference between big-data failure and success

The vast majority of discussion around big data and analytics focuses on the need to amass vast volumes of data to analyse, and the technology required to do so. Conspicuously missing from this dialogue has been how the business and its associated culture contribute to the success (or failure) of these initiatives.

Organisations today have fairly rigid hierarchies. There is an executive team responsible for mission and strategy, functional managers supported by portfolios and staff, and, at the bottom, the so-called information workers.

These are the individuals at the core of the organisation’s culture, and represent the most significant challenge (or opportunity) with regard to any changes in strategy, competencies or structure.

The big data and analytics paradigm is based on the notion that organisations must more fully exploit their information assets, and move to a culture of fact-based and data-driven decision-making in order to create new sources of sustainable competitive advantage.

To accomplish this, they must engage all elements of the organisation. Everyone must take this cultural shift away from hierarchical thinking and ‘gut-based’ decision-making to one where the full hierarchy is empowered based on their responsibilities to perform analysis and make decisions as close to the customer as possible.  

The power of this new strategic and operational model is clearly game changing, but cannot be realised without buy-in and a transformational shift in culture by all parties. 

The critical path for success in this new paradigm requires an organisational design that optimises all facets of the enterprise in the most efficient fashion. The design must adapt to the needs of the culture in respect to nurturing change while empowering new leaders to facilitate much of the execution process. 

>See also: The failures of big data

You don’t need to create a start-up to embrace new and innovative business and operational models. Many of the leaders in fast-moving industry segments find themselves in a continuous disruptive cycle where, as they pursue competitive advantage, they must adapt their organisations on a continuous basis.

This is clearly the case with the emerging market leaders, which are taking full advantage of all that big data and analytics can provide in respect to delighting their customers with new services and products based upon a deeper, more insightful and trust-based relationship.

I encourage all senior executives to focus on the real prize in the big data and analytics frenzy: the optimised organisation.

A hearty breakfast

Dr Peter Drucker famously said, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ This phrase has been applied to ‘everything strategy’, but is still quite relevant nonetheless. When advocating a new organisational structure, a business should never underestimate the power of the organisation’s culture in respect to adopting it or resisting it. It must engage it as a force for good, and empower it to lead the charge.

Too many chiefs spoil the broth

The hype machines continue to insist that businesses need a chief (fill in the blanks) officer for virtually everything from data and analytics to innovation and digital. This knee-jerk response distracts executive management from the real issue: their lack of competency in these emerging domains. They must focus on mentoring the next generation of leaders to have core competencies in these areas. There is little hope for the current generation I am afraid.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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