Staying on Track in the Data Race

As the hype around big data begins to quiet down, more companies are focusing on how they can transform that data into insights and actions that lead to real business benefits. After all, what’s the point of a data initiative if it doesn’t add value?

We’re now seeing a race to achieve data-based business objectives, yet it’s a difficult race to win. In an MIT CISR study, we identified 100 obstacles companies can face in this process. Those included challenges like data quality issues, data integration problems, lack of engagement by business users, and even a lack of leadership or commitment for change.

While the obstacles are daunting, our study also identified ways to stay on track in the data race. They can be categorized by three sets of best practices:

Increase User Engagement

It’s important to get employees engaged in data projects. It’s common for users to lack the skills to be able to engage, to lack trust in the process, and to lack an understanding of the data. Or they might lack vision for how the insights can be used. By putting some skin in the game, employees can become more actively engaged in the development process. Companies can do this through approaches like using agile methodologies and co-location, or putting business unit hires in the IT unit or data-analytics groups within business units. With user-centric development, firms have a higher chance of investing in data that matters and producing actionable insights.

Develop Hybrids

Companies also should embrace the idea of hybrids. This means developing people who have a combination of business and technology skills. They can be business-savvy IT people or IT-savvy business people. Through hiring practices, employee rotations, and movement across and within IT and business units, organizations can develop a hybrid workforce. This is also supported with user-centric development of data projects, as hybrids have the technical skills and business knowledge to identify what data and insights are important.

Share Achievements

Successful companies on the data racetrack know the significance of internal marketing. When value is extracted from data, they make sure everyone knows about it. It’s hard not to get excited when your company says, “We just saved $X million because of how we are using data!” This can be done through videos, newsletters, knowledge-sharing portals, marketing campaigns, and even “dog and pony shows.” By highlighting the value produced from investments in data, vague ideas can be transformed into actionable and worthwhile initiatives.

If you’re running into some of those 100 obstacles, don’t get discouraged. There are a variety of ways to implement these best practices and get back on the racetrack.

What business initiatives is your organization addressing with data? Are you using these best practices to stay on track?

Barbara Wixom is a principal research scientist at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). You can read the full research briefing “Winning the Data Race” with free registration on the MIT CISR website.