Executive Q&A
Building & Maintaining an Analytic
& Data Driven Culture


July 7, 2017: Analytics can be a powerful contributor to the achievement of departmental and organizational goals. But successfully deploying analytics in any organization can be challenging. We caught up with Kimberly Nevala, Director of Business Strategies at SAS to gain some insight on building an analytic driven culture.

CW: Why is it important for companies to adopt an analytic culture?
KN: The speed of business today and customer’s expectations for personalized, relevant and intelligent interactions makes rapid, informed decision making a must, not a nice-to-have. Given the rate of change and the vast amounts of information flowing into and around the enterprise today, it is no longer practical to react and respond just on gut feel and prior experience. Or to take extended periods of time to collate, evaluate and analyze information before making a decision or reacting to emerging issues or trends.

CW: Given the unbelievably vast amounts of data available to be collected and the value it possesses, should this be prioritized above other areas of advanced technologies?
KN: Prioritized may be the wrong word as it implies a standalone program or project that may be a one-time activity. As opposed to an ongoing operating mindset. So, perhaps rather than saying prioritized above, development of an analytic awareness and tactics need to be prioritized into other areas – whether it’s the deployment of new technologies or new business practices.

CW: What steps can organizations take to embed this culture in to the heart of the business?
KN: Organizations need to become ‘analytic by design.’ By which I mean, the awareness of insight and data as an intrinsic asset, and not just a happy byproduct from business processes, needs to be baked into the business and technical operating model. Embedding this awareness into the organization’s psyche is a multi-dimensional problem. However, the process starts by asking, at the outset, what are the key decision points inherent to this product or system? What information can be created, captured or used to make each process, service or product more intelligent and impactful? What information would allow you to better monitor and ensure that the outcomes or objectives are efficacious? And so on…

CW: What are the major challenges companies and executives face when attempting this?
KN: There are a number of challenges but perhaps the most critical is a lack of clarity about what it means to be “data-driven” or to have an “analytic culture”. The use of the term culture in relation to this concept is - perhaps in and of itself - the most insidious threat. Inevitably bringing forth the argument: “yes, [company X] does this well but that won’t work here…it is not our culture.”

CW: What can be done to combat this?
KN: Leaders need to first and foremost have clarity about what these terms mean. It’s not enough to say “we want to use data to inform our decisions.”  Culture, ultimately, is expressed as behavior.  If we wish our organization to be more data-driven or analytical – whether when making strategic decisions in the boardroom or tactical operational decisions in the call center – we have to be explicit about the behaviors and activities this entails. Leadership must also establish processes and incentives that support, both implicitly and explicitly, the objectives and goals that have been articulated. By doing this, organizations become analytic by design rather than relying on happy circumstance or a non-directive mandate.

CW: You will be running a session on this very topic at the CAMSS Canada West 2017 conference in September. What do you want the attendees to take away from the session and can you provide a brief overview of the areas you will be focusing on?
KN: Clarity about what the term “data-driven” means in a practical sense and the importance of leaders modeling the behavior they are espousing. More specifically, we will discuss and endeavor to answer the questions:

  • What are the characteristic behaviors associated with a “data-driven culture”? 
  • Why is being data-driven bigger than the deployment of more dashboards and reports?
  • What are the key tactics leading organizations employ to create and sustain a data-driven mindset and practices?