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Guest Post By: Rebecca Shockley, Business Analytics & Optimization Global Lead, IBM Institute for Business Value

In many organizations, there is a misconception that simply having the right data in the hands of the right people using the right tools is enough to create a competitive and performance advantage.  It is true that having a strong information foundation and a core discipline of analytics skills are essential for organizations to successfully adopt analytics.  Yet, a critical piece of the analytics puzzle is often missing from this equation: organizational culture.

Cultivating a data-oriented culture is perhaps the least considered but most difficult of the three analytic competencies IBM and MIT Sloan Management Review identified in a new research study, Analytics: The widening divide.

The need to develop proficiency in information management and in analytics skills and tools – the other two analytics competencies — is intuitive: many business leaders believe analytics is all about the artful combination of data and mathematical analysis.  Yet, analytical insights can only create an impact when they are put into action – and it is the culture of an organization that dictates whether those insights are acted upon or not.

Why is creating a data-oriented culture so difficult for many organizations?  For one, it involves changing the way people think, act and interact at work.  Changing the behaviors and norms of an organization is significantly harder than changing the tools or adding new skills – a lesson that is being learned on the frontlines of business intelligence efforts around the globe.  Almost half (44%) of the 4,500 respondents surveyed in the study said the organizational challenges involved with effectively implementing analytics were extremely difficult to resolve; that’s twice as many who said technology challenges were extremely difficult.

One critical component of a data-oriented culture that stands out in both its force in changing behavior and in its elusiveness for many organizations is establishing a culture open to new ideas.  Data, and the resulting analytic insights it provides, provoke new ways of thinking about what works and what doesn’t within a business.  This more often than not disrupts the status quo.

While analytic insights can deliver value to decision makers by validating the current course of action, the ability to uncover undetected patterns in the data and to expedite decision making based on new insights is what creates the competitive advantage that organizations need in today’s marketplace.  Acting on these insights quickly is how aggressive adopters of analytics are achieving competitive and performance gains within their markets, and that agility requires a willingness to change directions; it requires a culture open to new ideas.

A corporate culture that is open to new ideas is one that defies experience, intuition and accumulated organizational wisdom – an unsettling prospect for business leaders whose careers have been founded and propelled by those very things.  Letting go of how things have always been done, or what has always worked, is not something organizations do easily, and rarely do organically.  To get there, it takes a clear vision, boldness and leadership.

You can read more about the study and how analytically sophisticated organization are creating a data-oriented culture at www.ibm.com/thewideningdivide.

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December 2, 2011
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I really like this article – resonate with the concept of using analysis as a driver of decision making, and how that is ultimately a cultural issue.
It’s not that different from change in one’s personal life – if you count calories and step on the scale, you lose more weight. It’s a reality check that helps you shift your behavior.
One reason I feel that people are often “resistant” to this is because the bigger vision hasn’t been talked about in a way that is inspiring – for example, if someone tells me I need to lose weight because it’s for my good health, that’s a very different motivation than if I get the internal inspiration of wanting to lose weight so I can fit my clothes better, challenge myself to running a triathlon, or set a good example for my kids. While simplistic, the motivation issue is crucial; is it driven by ME and do I personally connect with the reason for change?
In our book Transforming Corporate Culture, we emphasize context for organizational change. When a vision touches people, data becomes an essential tool to help assess progress and gain valuable information about the external world – ie, customers.
In fact, data is the very foundation of intuition and experience – it’s just that when it’s used as the primary tool, it’s sort of like eating your breakfast cereal with a hammer – one tool doesn’t work for every situation.


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