How to Overcome Data Obstacles and Summit Mount Data

- Updated May 1, 2024
Illustration: © AI For All
Despite data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) being top of mind for many organizations, many executives still bristle at the idea that data can add new insights to their intuition and experience. “What’s wrong with my intuition? I’ve built a successful business with it – it’s served me just fine up until now. Data and AI can’t replace that,” they might say. A common misconception lies at the heart of this idea: that data replaces experience. The reality is that data and AI doesn’t replace experience, they augment it. And it’s no secret that data and AI, when combined with experience and automation, can be transformational.
But no organization’s data analytics journey is without obstacles. In fact, most organizations never finish their journey toward becoming data-driven and they never make it a competitive differentiator. According to a recent New Vantage Partners (NVP) survey of executives at Fortune 1000 companies, “just 23.9 percent of companies characterize themselves as data-driven, and only 20.6 percent say that they have developed a data culture within their organization.” A 2021 survey from 2nd Watch found that “only 26 percent of survey respondents said they have any data strategy at all and 70 percent don’t have what they consider to be a mature data strategy.”
This usually isn’t for lack of trying. And it’s not always a purely technological problem. But, given my background and role, I can’t help but think about data transformation journeys from a technological perspective. The path to becoming a data-driven organization, while not universal, has some common milestones, themes, and technologies. In many ways, I’ve found that becoming data-driven is like scaling a mountain – and that “Mount Data,” as we’ll call it, has “landmarks” that organizations can use to judge their data maturity journey.
Let’s start our ascent of Mount Data. We’ll start at the bottom, at “Beginner’s Base Camp.”
Looking Up: “Beginner’s Base Camp”
Organizations at Beginner’s Base Camp are data novices, sometimes skeptical that data and AI will provide enough value to outweigh the cost and time they take to do well. These organizations have data; they’re at the foot of Mount Data because they haven’t prioritized processes that amplify what that data can do.
Data at these companies is often scattered and trapped in business applications, PDFs, spreadsheets, machines, and the heads of salespeople. Information is siloed and hoarded by leadership not on purpose, but because there’s no systematic process of disseminating information. Sure, the company may get the job done and meet some goals, but it often takes long nights and repetitive tasks. And because people are frequently doing tasks under duress, mistakes arise that require more work and firefighting. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
What it Takes to Leave Beginner’s Base Camp
Graduating from Beginner’s Base Camp requires a mentality shift. Before anything, data and AI competency must become a priority. The entire company – starting with the CEO and moving on down – must believe that data and AI will make an impact not as a novelty or a “maybe someday” thing, but as an immediate differentiator.
The organization also needs to establish a core of data expertise in the company. You need someone to “own data” within the organization, ideally a chief data officer (CDO) or chief data analytics officer (CDAO). Ideally that person has a team; a small team of three to five is best, but even one or two people have a substantial impact.
So much gets in the way of data and AI becoming a priority – but the business must believe it’s worth it, that doing the work now will pay off. With commitment, it will. If you prioritize data, establish a strong core of experts, give them the support they need to create the architecture that fits your organization, and have the patience to see things through, things will start to click. With this, you can say you’ve reached the next landmark, “Proficiency Point.”
Ascending to “Proficiency Point”
Organizations who reach Proficiency Point have made superb progress – getting here is no small feat. Within these organizations, data access is transparent and controlled. A small group of experts shepherd data and AI architecture and strategy. Systems have been set up to keep data secure, clean, and available. And critically, everyone in the organization sees and understands the value of data and AI. Beginner’s Base Camp seems a mile downhill.
A lot of organizations are content to stay in Proficiency Point. But this still isn’t the top of Mount Data, and our job isn’t done. Even here, there are still shortcomings.
Even for proficient organizations, data teams may not be able to handle the number of requests they get. Cloud costs keep rising. And to some, it may feel like the data team is working on things that never make it to production.
Reaching the top of Mount Data – “Superpower Summit” – is all about not just knowing that data and AI are adding value to the organization, but knowing exactly how much value.
Reaching “Superpower Summit”
There are three ways to know you’ve reached Mount Data’s summit. First, you have data-driven accountability: teams can demonstrate why projects are prioritized and determine whether projects were successful based on objective, impact-driven KPIs.
Second, data analytics and AI has been democratized – and thus scaled – throughout the organization. Everyone understands the basic concepts of data and AI and has tools that cater to their skill set – no matter if they’re experienced experts or complete novices.
Third, you’ve ensured transparent, governed data access. Teams don’t need to go to IT and wait weeks for approval for data access. At Mount Data’s peak you have a strong data fabric, catalog, and governance that provide both flexibility and control over your democratized data and AI capabilities.
In all, organizations at Superpower Summit have turned data into a unique competitive advantage. McKinsey estimates that data-driven companies earn up to 20 percent higher revenue than competitors. Other studies show that data-driven companies see 2-3x improvements in time to market, customer satisfaction, operational efficiency, and productivity compared to their data-novice competitors. In other words, there’s no sweeter place to be than Mount Data’s peak.
A word to the wise: the path will never be straight. A hundred issues will crop up, no matter how vigilant you are. And no two data journeys will be identical. This is the nature of the challenge. But if you can follow this path, you’ll have the best possible chance of making data a superpower for your organization – an imperative in today’s hyper-competitive business landscape.
Data Governance
Enterprise AI
Altair is a global leader in computational intelligence, which provides software and cloud solutions in the areas of simulation, high-performance computing (HPC), and AI. Altair enables organizations in nearly every industry to compete more effectively in a connected world while creating a more sustainable future.
Altair is a global leader in computational intelligence, which provides software and cloud solutions in the areas of simulation, high-performance computing (HPC), and AI. Altair enables organizations in nearly every industry to compete more effectively in a connected world while creating a more sustainable future.