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The Rise of the Data-Driven Enterprise


May 21, 2021

Data is everywhere. You can find it in every industry and every organization, at every scale. Already, the amount of data generated by modern businesses is scarcely conceivable. And that amount will only grow to increasingly monumental proportions in the near future.

  • Every day, the world produces 5 exabytes of data. That’s equivalent to 2.5 quintillion bytes, or 2.5 billion gigabytes.
  • By 2025, we will be producing data at a rate of 463 exabytes per day. To put that into perspective: in 2009, the world’s entire digital storage capacity was ‘just’ 487 exabytes. By tomorrow’s standards, we’d fill that volume in under two days.

That data is becoming increasingly valuable, especially from a business perspective. After all, data can tell us a lot about a company’s processes and activities. It tells you whether you’re moving in the right direction, reveals which areas can be improved, and guides how you might go about implementing those improvements. Standing on the shores of this ocean of information, looking toward the future, it becomes impossible to ignore its potential.

While only 3 of the 10 most valuable enterprises were actively taking a data-driven approach in 2008, that number has risen to 7 out of 10 today. From Apple to Microsoft, from Facebook to Amazon—they all rely on data to drive their key decision-making processes.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be a major multinational to embrace the data-driven enterprise. Any company can take this step and use data to generate value for their customers, their employees, and their own business. Embracing a data-driven approach enables fact-based decision-making, which has the power to help any department within your organization achieve better business outcomes.

But what does it mean to be a data-driven enterprise? Why should you integrate data utilization into your core values? And how do you approach the transformation itself? We're here to help. In this article, we’ll explain the benefits of embracing data to improve your value chain and describe the steps you need to take to ensure a successful transition.

OVER 30%

Annual growth experienced by data-driven organizations.

What is a data-driven enterprise?

A data-driven enterprise is an organization that has integrated data analysis into the core of its business processes. It uses the insights it derives from this data to transform its business processes.

Key characteristics of data-driven enterprises include a focus on automation, continual improvement and optimization, the ability to anticipate internal and external changes, an adaptive mindset, and, most of all, a culture that fully embraces data and its potential.

In organizations that do not take a data-driven approach, data is often siloed within different departments and isolated in various aspects of the value chain. Because data is clustered in separate locations, its ability to contribute to continuous optimization is limited. Data does not come together and is often disorganized, which makes it difficult if not impossible for the various departments within the organization to derive benefits from the organization’s data as a whole.

By contrast, a data-drive enterprise is capable of unifying the data it generates into a comprehensive model, which then serves as the basis for analysis and optimization.

Contrary to what many people assume, this isn’t only a matter of IT. It’s not the exclusive domain of specialists who are well-accustomed to working with numbers. Nor is the data encapsulated in a single department like HR or Finance, without being accessible to the rest of the organization.

Instead, every employee within the organization plays an active role in enabling the data-driven enterprise, supporting it, and driving it forward. Everybody is involved, both in the utilization of the data and in realizing its underlying potential.

This isn’t to say that the transformation necessarily needs to play out on a massive scale. Your organization doesn’t need to take a ‘Big Bang’ approach to change. Rather, it’s a matter of taking a holistic approach, establishing a vision your talent can understand immediately that provides the bedrock you need to roll out data-centric work methods throughout your entire value chain.

How a chemical company revolutionized its business processes by embracing data

More often than not, the solution to improving your business processes is already within reach in the data you have at your disposal today. The most common obstacles businesses encounter are that their employees either lack the skills to glean insights from the data at hand or that doing so is not common practice.

We encountered an excellent example of just how much impact a data-driven approach can have on business processes while working with one of our clients in the chemical industry. Our client had asked us to map out a process and determine what was necessary to prevent failures of essential machinery. Part of this challenge was that their engineers needed to keep track of a wide range of different variables, which was an exceptionally time-consuming task.

Our measurements revealed that the variables they spent the most time tracking had no impact whatsoever on equipment failure. Going by their professional intuition, their engineers assumed that these variables were critical to continuity. But if they’d had access to the right data, they would have been able to save themselves countless hours of unnecessary work.

This example demonstrates how even minor data-driven insights can generate substantial improvements in the way your business operates, leading to significant savings in terms of both costs and time. It also illustrates that intuition still tends to prevail over facts in professional environments, especially when those facts are not easily accessible. A survey conducted among 9,000 professionals worldwide shows that this is not a rare occurrence.

  • Over 48 percent of employees indicate they tend to follow their gut instinct rather than relying on data-driven insights.
  • Only 37 percent of employees have greater confidence in decisions when they are based on data.

Transforming data into business value

Leveraging data within your organization has the potential to deliver value in many areas. It can help lower costs and increase profits, but also reduce risks. That return on investment also provides the motivation to pursue data-driven ways of working further and explore new avenues of transformation. And these benefits are measurable and tangible, which makes it easier to communicate them to your clients, your management, and your teams.

Pivoting to a data-driven approach will allow your organization to anticipate changes and challenges more effectively and accurately. Insights derived from real-world data will allow you to look farther into the future than you normally could. Instead of relying on day-by-day snapshots of your business, you’ll be able to set solid, measurable goals several years into the future. And that approach has many advantages: on average, data-driven enterprises generate more than 30 percent growth per year.

As mentioned earlier, data-driven work methods can be applied at any level within your organization, which allows them to contribute to better outcomes for various parts of your value chain. The benefits of the data-driven enterprise aren’t limited to one aspect of your business – they boost your results in myriad ways, regardless of your industry or which department you deploy them in.

  • Personalized customer experiences. Your communication, products, and services are tailored specifically to your customers based on real customer data, leading to greater customer satisfaction.
  • Improved decision-making. Key decision-making processes are optimized, allowing you to make better decisions faster, as you always have data at your disposal to support these decisions.
  • New business models. Combining insights from your data allows you to develop innovative business models.
  • Improved efficiency. Your employees will be able to automate time-consuming manual tasks, allowing them to reduce costs while simultaneously freeing up time for more creative pursuits.
  • Stronger cybersecurity. Using AI to actively bolster your organization’s cybersecurity posture will allow you to limit the scope and impact of potential cyberattacks and identify potential vulnerabilities before they are abused.
  • Ambitious social goals. Greater insight into your organization’s data won’t merely benefit you financially. It also helps identify other opportunities, like increasing diversity or pursuing sustainable business practices more effectively.

To show you how your organization might use data to generate value, we’ve put together a few actionable examples for your consideration.

In our experience, leadership consistently has the greatest impact on success. Managers and executives are critical to establishing the vision, setting out the story, and determining the pace at which the organization adopts a data-driven culture.

Automating and personalizing customer service

Online interactions with customers offer many opportunities for automation, freeing up your talent to respond directly to customers in situations where personal contact makes the greatest difference. Your customer data provides a wealth of insight into who your customers are, how they use your services, what they want, and what sort of assistance they prefer.

Artificial intelligence can help you manage customer service processes more intelligently by leveraging this data (e.g. personal data, purchasing data, etc.) to provide optimized experiences at a lower cost per customer.

Intelligent virtual agents (e.g. chatbots) and automation programs will help you respond to your customers’ needs faster and more efficiently. These effective digital solutions only become more attractive when combined with tailored personal communication, based on each customer’s personal context and intent. As an added bonus, this approach will allow you to push for consistent communication and interactions across all touchpoints.

Generating more revenue from your customers

Customer data isn’t just a gold mine for your customer service – it can also help you increase your revenue by approaching your customers in a more effective manner and increasing conversion rates. Combining data from all your touchpoints and sales channels will give you a much clearer picture of your customers and their needs, as well as opportunities for persuasion.

Using artificial intelligence, you can then leverage that data to offer your products and services to (potential) customers at precisely the right place and time, in precisely the channel. They only see the products that are relevant to their needs, which greatly increases the odds of securing a sale.

  • More than 60 percent of the 2,000 largest consumer goods enterprises indicate they are counting on artificial intelligence to manage their supply chain initiatives by 2024, expecting an increase in productivity of more than 20 percent.

In turn, this approach creates new opportunities to optimize your product offering based on your sales data. By combining data from various silos and using advanced analytics and AI to derive insights from them, you’ll be able to make your supply chain more transparent, efficient, and adaptive, which increases your ability to anticipate and meet your customers’ ever-changing needs.

This means your customers always find the products and services they want, when they want them. And these are just a few of the opportunities the data-driven enterprise has to offer.

How do you successfully transition to a data-driven enterprise?

Getting both your leadership and your talent to commit to a data-driven approach is key to determining whether your transformation will be successful. Is everybody willing to embrace data as part of the business culture? Do your leaders and your teams have the skills and know-how to derive insights from the data at your disposal?

At first glance, this can look like a daunting challenge. Research has shown that although a clear majority of 87 percent of all employees believe in the value of data, only 25 percent think they’d be capable of leveraging that data effectively. 74 percent feel overwhelmed and unhappy when they work with data, and data is a source of stress for 6 out of 10 employees.

Statistics like these seem to paint a grim picture for leaders looking to adopt a data-driven approach. Fortunately, other statistics from the same research tell a different, more hopeful story.

  • More than half of all employees who work in data-driven roles report they feel more confident about the decisions they make. That confidence carries over to decisions made by others.
  • 37 percent of employees believe they would become more productive if they received training that helped them make (better) use of data.

If anything, these numbers show that every company has the potential to implement data-driven work methods successfully. The foundation is already there—it’s just a matter of addressing the concerns your employees have regarding their abilities to thrive in this new environment.

And of course, that foundation will only get you so far. That’s why it’s so important for leadership to take an active role in the transformation. In our experience, leadership consistently has the greatest impact on success. Managers and executives are critical to establishing the vision, setting out the story, and determining the pace at which the organization adopts a data-driven culture.

Taking the lead in cultural transformation

To say that leadership has an important role to play on the road to the data-driven enterprise doesn’t mean that switching to a data-driven approach is a simple, top-down decision. If you treat it like an edict and leave your employees to their own devices, your transformation is doomed to fail. On the contrary: it’s a change that impacts everything and everybody within your organization. Which is precisely why the responsibility for pursuing it shouldn’t just lie with the IT department, but with all key stakeholders at all levels of the organization.

By involving your entire organization in your data-driven transformation from the outset, everybody will feel included and be able to influence how data is used in a way that works best for them. After all, we’ve already mentioned that data can have a negative impact on your employees’ abilities to do their job if they don’t feel they know how to handle said data.

As such, you need to ensure that the people within your organization receive the training and support they need. Not just to understand the new data-driven work methods, but become adept at them as well. Given access to sufficient knowledge and skills, they will naturally take on more responsibility in an incremental manner, and begin producing new insights and improving their respective processes.

Conversely, if you’re unwilling or unable to communicate to your teams that a data-driven approach generates real-world value, the whole exercise becomes pointless. You need to be a genuine sponsor and ambassador, focusing on the value it delivers. This will help convince your teams to embrace the new culture faster and with greater enthusiasm.

Leadership is a critical factor at the outset of any cultural transformation, and the data-driven enterprise is no different. As a leader, you need to lead from the front and set an inspiring example. Establishing a group of enthusiastic, data-savvy employees and IT specialists will help add momentum to the idea, bringing even the most skeptical people into the fold sooner or later.

Making the difference

Which steps do you need to take to transform your organization into a data-driven enterprise?

  • Analyze your organization to determine which areas are ripe for improvement and which data you already have at your disposal. Take stock of the skills and the experience currently present among your teams that can help you during the transformation.
  • Use these insights to determine the feasibility and speed of your data implementation. Remember that these things take time and require a step-by-step approach.
  • Support the cultural transformation with a change management program. Provide training to help your employees adapt to and embrace the new way of working. Find out which roles your people should fulfill to make the program a success—like the Analytics Translator, for instance, who takes the lead within teams in terms of data.
  • Always discuss data-driven work methods in terms of value added. Skepticism is unavoidable, and some people will have trouble adopting a data-driven approach. Demonstrating how it will help them and the organization has an excellent chance of resonating with them. It is important that you show your organization the bright and valuable sides of data, not the dry and complex details. A bright future vision will help generate the motivation you need.
  • Give your teams a taste of what the data-driven future will bring. Show them how data will make their lives better, and challenge your teams to share their successes relentlessly. Putting the spotlight on the good you’ve done today will help convince more people to pursue data-driven ways of working tomorrow.

The future of the data-driven enterprise

Data has become synonymous with modern life. It plays an essential role in many key digital services, and companies are increasingly waking up to its potential. It’s no wonder that 90 percent of all business strategies are expected to explicitly mention data as a crucial success factor by 2022.

Judging by that number, it’s safe to say that many companies already feel a sense of urgency when it comes to data. But 81 percent of businesses still don’t have a solid data strategy to use the full potential of their data, and 84 percent don’t have the data platform they need. Clearly, when it comes to seizing the potential of the data-driven enterprise, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

But the opportunities are there. The rewards for those who seize them will be great. The insights you need to propel your business into a bright future are already within reach, just below the surface. And if you’re looking for a partner to help you excavate that treasure and put it to good use, we know exactly where to break ground.

Don't hesitate to contact Laurence, Martijn, or Miel if you'd like to know more about turning your company into a data-driven enterprise!


Laurence van der Sande

Managing Director Applied Intelligence & Data Business Group NL