Data in the DNA: Growing a company with data at its core

You can have all the flair in the world and the best business instincts ever seen: but sometimes there's just no substitute for a great big cache of data.

Data drives everything. Whether it’s analysing quarterly sales figures or using a fitness tracking app, reviewing inventory information or scrolling through recommended music on iTunes – data permeates both work and play, our jobs and our personal lives.

In the business world, there’s a growing recognition that data-driven decisions deliver results. Data provides a goldmine of insights waiting to be discovered, and in a competitive landscape these insights are the route to competitive advantage. But how can an organisation ensure that data sits at the heart of its operation? How can a company make sure business decisions are rooted in data, rather than based on instinct, intuition, and guesswork?

Develop a data habit

For founders, CEOs, directors, and senior managers, the first question when considering any decision should always be “what data do we have to support this?” The sooner this habit is formed, the better. Some larger companies may make their decisions based on the experience or intuition of senior individuals, but that’s no way to sustainably and reliably grow a business. Always look for the data in the first instance, and use it to inform the decision-making process.

The data may not always be available for a growing company, but the important thing is starting by asking the question. Organisations need to be conscious of how to make decisions, and a data-based process needs to be adopted as early as possible on a company’s journey.

Access from the outset

In the past, the default position for traditional businesses was to hoard data, hiding it away and granting access an individual, case-by-case basis. This just isn’t tenable any longer. Collecting vast quantities of data is fantastic, but it holds no value unless it’s frequently referred to and used. The more often data is used, the more value businesses can gain from it.

>See also: Using marketing to fuel business growth

For companies wanting to drive data-driven decision making from the outset, granting more staff access to as much data as possible is a critical first step. This approach shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, or without suitable controls and security measures, but those companies that embrace this approach from the beginning are able to consistently unlock value from their data on an ongoing basis. This ultimately leads to better insight and bigger returns.

Crucially, it’s much easier to implement this approach while the company is still growing. The bigger the business, the more arduous this change can be.

Empower everyone with the right tools and training

In the business world, the word ‘data’ often conjures images of technical experts – scientists with qualifications in statistical analysis and the ability to write code fluently. Leaving only a few specialists with the capability to interrogate data inhibits two critical factors for growing businesses – agility and resource efficiency.

Business opportunities arise and disappear at a startling speed, and the ability to react to them swiftly is vital. Those people within a company who spot an opportunity should be able to quickly6 examine the relevant data themselves to judge what the appropriate business reaction should be.

They know the key business questions, so they need to be armed with the ability to directly ask these questions of the data. Going through specialists who use complex, archaic analytical tools wastes valuable time and limits agility. The answer? A company’s key decision makers need to be armed with easy-to-ease analysis tools and trained to use them properly. There are options out there which provide a drag-and-drop interface and yield answers in minutes rather than days.

>Related: How to influence without authority

This is particularly important for a growing business, as most growing organisations can’t afford a dedicated technical analysis team anyway. This makes intuitive analysis tools a must.

Keep it going

The data may now be accessible, the right tools are there, and the senior team make all critical decisions based on data. How do you keep this going? In short, you need to foster a ‘data culture’.

The senior team need to continue leading the way with data-driven decision making, but this needs to be extended and encouraged throughout every level of the company. Findings, processes, and examples of best practice need to be shared with everyone, and new joiners should be shown the data analysis tools as soon as possible. This atmosphere of collaborative working allows employees to learn from one another, drawing on the creativity, ingenuity and problem-solving skills of their colleagues.

There may well be data-driven individuals working within the organisation already, particularly as millennials increasingly join the workplace. Supporting their development will yield swift dividends, as they’ll be motivated to develop their analytical capabilities and keen to embrace the use of data on a day-to-day basis. Identifying and nurturing these individuals will also encourage others to follow suit, further driving the data revolution.

Ultimately, the right culture is the linchpin in building a data-led company. It’s slower and more difficult for a large enterprise to change its entire culture to a data-led approach, but for growing businesses, who don’t have multiple teams operating separately, results can be seen far quicker.

Encourage data familiarity, fluency, and comfort from the get-go, and keep on encouraging it. Growth in a data culture can undoubtedly lead to growth of the company and its bottom line.

Further reading on data:

> Virtual data rooms: A how to guide

Written by George Mathew, president and COO at Tagged:

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.