Current State Analysis: Data Culture

Vanessa   Lam
Vanessa Lam Master's Student, Computer and Information Technology, University of Pennsylvania Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Vanessa Lam

This article is the fourth in a series taking a deep dive on how to do a Current State Analysis on your data. This article focusses on Data Culture: what it is, why it is important, and what questions to ask to determine its current state.

The questions are organized by stakeholder group to facilitate usability; hopefully you can use this as a template to start your Current State Analysis journey. A few definitions before we begin — note that these groups are not mutually exclusive:

People who Input Data: These are people who collect and/or input data into the system. For example, sales people inputting their sales numbers, or survey creators.

People who Manipulate and Analyze Data: These are people who organize the data and create analyses. This includes Data Engineers, Business Intelligence Professionals, and Data Analysts.

People who Make Decisions based on Data: These are the people who use the data to make decisions. This may be a sales manager deciding where to invest resources, a product manager understanding product use demographics, or an executive trying to cut costs.

What Is Data Culture?

Data Culture refers to the way that people in an organization interact with data. Whether or not it has been intentionally curated, every organization has a Data Culture. It can be found in the way that people speak about data, if they are afraid of it, or how they include it in their decision making. A poor data culture can lead to confusing communication, inconsistent decisions, and non-actionable insights, while a good one promotes robust, actionable, and data-driven insights.

Although good technologies and processes are important for responsible data use, it is equally important to understand how humans interact with data. Often, organizations will implement new data technologies and procedures, but will not think through how it affects the people who produce, use, and make decisions based on that data — in short, how data fits into peoples' lives. Cultivating a strong Data Culture refers to the human side of data management — making sure that data is trusted and that everyone is using data responsibly.

Why Is Data Culture Important?

Data is not meant to be collected for data's sake, but instead is to be used for decision making. Unfortunately, however, even if their technical data elements work smoothly, there can be a disconnect between the technical data manipulation and the practical use and implementation. This is often caused by human misunderstanding or misuse of data, which is indicative of a poor data culture. With a stronger data culture, more people will understand the data and the best ways to be responsible with it, therefore spending less time in the data weeds and more time making decisions with data. Read more about Data Culture here.

Questions to Determine Current State of Data Culture

To Those Who Input Data

These questions are centered around understanding how connected the people who input data are to the data insights that are produced from their inputs. Oftentimes the people who input data are not the same as those who consume it, and therefore it becomes a lower priority to the people who input the data. A strong data culture would try to close the feedback loop. It would show those who input the data dashboards and metrics based on the data and how it impacts their daily lives. With more feedback and visibility, the potentially tedious task of data collection may gain more meaning.

  • Do you know how the data that you input is used? Do you know why it is important?

  • Who is the primary consumer of the data that you input?

  • Are you a consumer of any data or dashboards? How does that affect the way you do your role?

  • Is data a positive or negative influence in your role?

To Those Who Manipulate and Analyze Data

For the people who analyze the data every day, the Data Culture is most of their working culture. Not only do they reap the benefits of trustworthy and consistent data in their own work, but they also will be the ones to hear about any data issues from stakeholders across the organization. These are the people who have the strongest understanding about the Data Culture and have the most power to change it from the ground up.

These questions are meant to understand how much they trust data as users, but also how they think others use and perceive data across the organization. We are trying to understand if people are communicating about data in a positive way, but also if they are using consistent metrics so that everyone is speaking the same language.

  • Do you trust the data that you are using? Do you understand it?

  • Are people across the organization using the same vocabulary to refer to the same things?

  • If there are issues in the data, are they well communicated across the organization?

  • Are there discussions about data across the organization? Are they generally positive or negative?

  • How is your data organization currently structured? Do you have a democratized or centralized data team? (Read more about data organizations here)

To Those Who Make Decisions Based on Data

It is very easy for data decision makers to be detached from the source of their data. While it is not essential for them to understand the intricacies, it is good to know where their level of understanding is with the data. This helps to know if they are appropriately assessing the level of trust they should have in the data. Some decision makers may blindly trust the data because they have no reason to believe it is wrong, even though analysts have wide confidence intervals and issue many warnings with their analyses. Others may forgo data in their decision making altogether because they do not trust it, even if their analysts have a high level of trust. It is good for decision makers to have an ear to the ground for upstream data issues and have a high-level understanding of where the data comes from.

  • Do you understand where the data comes from (at a high level?)

  • Do you understand what goes into the metrics that are being used to make decisions and measure performance?

  • What factors would cause you to override a decision that is supported by data?

Conclusion

Data Culture is what happens when people interact with data. Data Culture influences data outcomes just as much as Quality and Freshness but is less discussed because it is not a technical issue. Without focus on Data Culture, you may have perfect data and no one to use it. Even worse, you could have people using it in inconsistent ways across the organization, causing confusion and slowing down processes. When doing a Current State Analysis on data, Data Culture is an integral piece of the puzzle.

This is the fourth in a series discussing the important considerations when assessing your Current State of Data. Follow along for the next article about Data Outcomes — how people use data to drive their organization's goals and mission.

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Standard citation for this article:


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Vanessa Lam , "Current State Analysis: Data Culture" Business Rules Journal Vol. 23, No. 4, (Apr. 2022)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2022/c093.html

About our Contributor:


Vanessa   Lam
Vanessa Lam Master's Student, Computer and Information Technology, University of Pennsylvania

Vanessa is a current Master's student studying Computer and Information Technology at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously, she was a Manager of Business Operations on the Business Insights and Productivity Team at Mastercard. There, she worked with people across the organization to produce insights and analytics to make their organizations run more efficiently. Previously she worked at Optoro, a growth-stage software company, where she was the Manager of Business Intelligence. She was in charge of creating educational tools for the organization, fostering a strong data culture, and ensuring that people were using data responsibly. Vanessa graduated in 2015 from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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