Translating data into a universal language is key to developing a culture around it, says data consulting company
If employees don’t speak ‘data,’ then data-based solutions will not generate sufficient return on investment for Fortune 500 companies, claims DJ Das, Founder and CEO of ThirdEye data.
ThirdEye Data is a data consulting company based in Silicon Valley that uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data to build tech solutions for its customers.
In this Q&A, Das speaks to The Sociable about data culture, why it’s important, how companies can develop it and why a diverse mixture of employee backgrounds makes it easier to assimilate.
Our questions and his answers have been edited for clarity.
Q: How do you define data culture?
A: “Everyone is implementing big data solutions, but we saw that many times, they were not actually being used optimally.
And that’s when we realized that it’s not about the investments in technology that these companies are making, or the time and money that they are spending setting up these systems and processes, but it’s all about the culture that the company has.
We define data culture as the art and science of enabling and empowering people to leverage data for every day processes and decision making by leveraging technology.
“We define data culture as the art and science of enabling and empowering people to leverage data for every day processes and decision making by leveraging technology” — DJ Das
At ThirdEye, data culture works by saying that whenever we do something, we have to validate it.
You notice the reference to ‘art and science’ … it isn’t just sciences that enable a data culture, but also the art of it. It has to be in the mind of people.
If people are not thinking in terms of data, if they don’t have a culture in their mind about working with data, then they will not be able to do their job efficiently.
The science part we can help with, as a consulting company. But the art part, it’s up to the company, because they know their people best.
It’s a difficult thing to achieve, but if the top management buy-in then it becomes much easier.
Q: Why do companies need data culture?
A: What’s going on is that everybody is using data-related buzzwords and wanting to set up their own data platforms and do analytics.
While it’s good that people are thinking this way, it will actually not help them if they don’t change who they are initially.
How can a company expect to get a return on investment if they don’t fundamentally rethink their processes?
“How can a company expect to get a return on investment if they don’t fundamentally rethink their processes?” DJ Das
Investments in data are good, but if you do not invest in enabling a culture around them, so that people understand how to use these technologies, and can use them as and when it is needed — in a way that best optimizes the current existing processes — your company won’t achieve efficiency.
Q: How do you suggest that companies develop a data culture?
A: It’s nothing rocket science, it’s all common sense. I really don’t claim to have a secret recipe.
But in an organization, everybody likes to take control of data, it gives them a fake confidence that they are empowered. So what they do is they create their own data silos, they use their own databases: this could be as simple as creating an excel sheet and not sharing it with other people.
This is also a job security thing for employees, they feel like if they let go of the data and share it with everybody and the enterprise, their job will not be safe anymore.
The first thing we need to do is break down the data silos, we need to have a single source of input from where data comes in.
Then, we need to develop business goals that the company seeks to establish using this data, get everyone involved — especially management — set up processes, deploy technologies and then test the method out.
Q: You say that having a team of diverse employees, with backgrounds in many different fields can boost efforts to assimilate data culture into a company. So where do you see a link between data culture and diversity?
A: By diversity I mean location diversity, plus time zone diversity and also cultural diversity.
At ThirdEye, 99% of our customers are US-based. My consultants are also in the US and they are then guided by an India-based development and support team. So we are everywhere.
And when it comes to our clients, we all come from different backgrounds. We might be coming from a very technical background, some people might be coming from a business background.
Before, we had pure program project managers, they are not technical people but all they did was translate technical talk to business talk, and business talk to technical talk.
But now what’s happening is that the talents are becoming very flexible. Project managers have become technical project managers, they aren’t just translators, but they actually understand the technology, most of them probably have experience with the technology, but also have a background in business.
The lines between the technical world and the management world and the business world are blurring. People are understanding each other more.
And this is a good thing.
According to Das, for companies to be able to profit from being data-informed, the data language they speak must be universal, so that all employees can understand it.
Disclosure: This article includes a client of an Espacio portfolio company.