Data & Change Management - two elements of the data-centric organizational culture

Data is increasingly recognized as a strategic resource, providing companies with a competitive advantage. The efficient use of data is the base of informed decisions and drives innovation. However, introducing new data tools or technologies only is insufficient to become a data-centric organization. A data-centric culture requires shifts in thinking and behaving of people, a new design of processes and change towards data-driven mindsets.

The transformation into a data-centric company often fails due to unclear rules, a lack of transparency regarding data use and acquisition, and non-specified responsibilities. During the implementation of structures, project teams realize the difficulty in “bringing these data to life”. Hence, what considerations need to be taken into account?

Figure 1: Need for data and change management

The successful establishment of a data-driven culture is built upon a fundamental data strategy. The initial phase must create business value, define clear opportunities, and establish first use cases to demonstrate the power of data.  The next step ensures the best technology infrastructure to be in place to support data management and analysis. Furthermore, clear guidelines, procedures, and standards for data governance and utilization must be established, encompassing aspects such as data security, privacy, and compliance. Moreover, effective data governance delineates explicit responsibilities for data management and sets strict guidelines for data handling. It fosters transparency regarding usable data, how data is captured and processed, and identifies those who are accountable for quality and integrity. A well-established data governance framework facilitates employees' access to requisite data, enhancing its credibility and reliability.

Establishing the right culture

In addition to tech structures and data governance, the appropriate data culture is of paramount importance. A data mindset, the right skill set, and leadership are critical for the transformation into a data-centric company. The data mindset relates to the attitude and behavior of employees and leaders regarding the acceptance and believes in data. To foster a data mindset, employees must comprehend the significance of data in decision-making, be willing to utilize data to challenge assumptions and to make informed choices. They should treat data as a strategic asset, recognize the benefits of a data-centric approach, and they need to be prepared to share data. All of this requires a culture of trust, understanding of data and a willingness to move away from traditional thinking patterns.

The skillset concerns the abilities and competencies of employees in handling data. It is essential to support employees in developing skills that prioritize data and ensure that data is accessible, comprehensible, and actionable. This encompasses technical skills such as data analysis, data visualization, and data management, as well as skills in interpreting and explaining of data insights. The organization should provide training and professional development initiatives to continuously enhance the data expertise of employees.

Management must be a role model of change

Leadership plays a success-critical role, in establishing this data-centric culture. Executives drive and shape the transformation actively. This includes, but is not limited to, developing a clear vision, highlighting the benefits, and providing necessary resources and support. Collaboration across departments and functions is indispensable. It ensures that data is effectively utilized throughout the entire company, silos are broken down, and a unified data-centric strategy can be pursued. Management must lead by example and show employees how data-driven decisions can be made. 

"Data Ambassadors" can be a helpful support for organizations in their transformation: In addition to traditional roles such as Data Owner or Data Scientist, Ambassadors promote the significance of data within the company. They encourage and inspire colleagues to actively use data for making better decisions. This role is pivotal for the success of implementing a data-centric culture, as it ensures that employees recognize the potential of data and become familiar with its proper utilization. When companies embrace the shift towards a data-centric culture, address the challenges actively, and implement data-related core functions and key roles, they can create a culture harnessing the full potential of data.

The transformation journey in practice

When implementing a data-centric culture, the following success factors should be considered as part of a change project:

Figure 2: Nine elements of the Responsive Change Model

Once the technological foundations have been laid and governance developed, the path to the data-centric enterprise leads along the implementation, communication and refinement of existing policies and strategies. In addition to the development of an archiving and deletion strategy and a storage strategy for data and a communication strategy for data management, this includes best practices for governance structures, requirements for the committee landscape and its networking, and other topics. In addition, a communication strategy for the implementation of the data management concept must be developed on the basis of an analysis of the target groups and communication channels as well as existing measures. Part of this are measures to anchor the collection of data in everyday life and work with data as well as to strengthen a data culture and mindset. To this end, relevant stakeholders are already involved in the conception phase by means of interviews.

The Responsive Change Model offers companies an effective guardrail on such a transformation journey. Following an analysis of the initial situation, it entails the design and implementation of a change architecture across key areas including governance, vision, communication, employee empowerment, and leadership. This process emphasizes the involvement of all stakeholders and co-creation with internal change and communication resources, aiming to initiate a sustainable and organizationally scalable transformation.

By interweaving strategy, technology, governance, and culture change, sustainable change that scales across the organization is created. This approach enables the creation of true value in the evolution to a data-centric organization.