2020 has been a year like no other. The Covid-19 pandemic has upended economies, irrevocably changed consumer behaviour, and forced businesses to change the way they operate. While in many ways it has pressed pause on our lives, in other ways the pandemic has initiated G-force inducing acceleration, fast tracking the digitalisation of our economy and our transition towards a digital marketplace.
If businesses are to survive the immediate fallout from the pandemic and thrive into the future, they have to understand their new, post-Covid landscape. And this is where data is key. Data can help businesses identify and comprehend shifts in customer behaviour, and better understand the rapidly evolving marketplace in which they operate.
But for this vision to materialise, business leaders need to get a decisive data strategy in place – and ensure all employees are on board with this. Here’s some focus areas that data leaders, and more broadly businesses, should consider in 2021 to help create a pathway to success.
The three considerations of data: standardise data, data strategy and data culture
There’s data cataloging, data bench lining, and a single view of data. Getting data right requires multiple considerations. Information Age spoke to Greg Hanson from Informatica and he outlined three considerations: to standardise data, data strategy and data culture. Read here
1. Consistent data standards
For years we have known that data standardisation is key to organisations unlocking the value of their own data, and ultimately entering the data ecosystem. However, many organisations still have a long way to go, and need to place fresh emphasis on creating data standards that all employees understand and comply with.
There is significant opportunity for business leaders and industry players to work closely with government to assist in this, by creating a set of standards for treating and referencing data. Initially these could cover priority areas, including identity indicators and standards around cleaning and validating data.
Agreeing on a common approach to these would help employees understand the rules of data handling, increasing their data competence and confidence. As a result, organisations would be better positioned to take control of their own data, paving the way to greater data sharing both internally, across departments, and externally with other organisations.
2. Developing better data skills
Any discussion about the data skill shortage often turns to what schools and universities are doing, but we need to broaden our perspective if we’re to adequately tackle this challenge.
Business leaders need to consider how they can expand their talent pools by becoming better employers to diverse people. While the discussion around diversity and inclusion often focuses on gender and ethnicity, there is a strong case to be made for improving neurodiversity within organisations too.
For example, Asperger’s can be an advantage in certain jobs, particularly those involving data analytics. But conventional recruitment practices work against those with the condition.
If employers want to close the growing skills gaps and access innovative and creative employees, they need to implement policies and processes that give all types of people an equal chance to succeed.
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3. Cascading data knowledge
But it’s not just about bringing new, data literate employees on board. Organisations need to do more to communicate their data strategy, the importance of this and the necessity for all employees to build their data skills. Failure to do so could see data knowledge concentrated in the hands of a few, who are then relied upon to support the entire business. This is unsustainable and can lead to issues if these people move elsewhere.
One organisation tackling this issue head-on is Marks & Spencer. In 2018, the retailer partnered with Decoded to create the world’s first Data Academy in retail. The programme aims to support the business’s digital transformation, by building the necessary skillsets from the ground up. Employees can enrol in an 18-month in-work data science skills programme, where they learn to adopt and apply data analytics tools and technologies such as machine learning.
More recently, this programme has expanded even further with the launch of a new entry-level Data Technician course that teaches employees how to manipulate, scrutinise and then translate that data into valuable insights.
Succeeding in 2021
At a time of great uncertainty, what is clear is that we are not going back to the way we were all doing business before. Just a few decades ago, businesses would have slowly picked themselves up and gradually established the long-term implications of the pandemic for their operating models. In 2021, data can fast-track this process by delivering the insights businesses need to confidently adapt and succeed in their new landscape.
However, they will not be able to access or make use of these insights unless they have the necessary skills and processes in place. Business leaders can lay the foundations for future success by implementing a considered data strategy. But to build on this, they will need to bring the entire organisation on board.