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BI pros share to-do items for creating data-driven companies

Experienced business intelligence and analytics managers offer their thoughts on how to get started on instilling more data-driven management and decision-making processes in organizations.

Increasingly, the talk in business intelligence and analytics circles is about fostering data-driven companies -- organizations that base business decisions in large part on information gleaned from BI and advanced analytics systems. But turning that talk into action isn't always so simple.

The potential benefits of a more data-driven business include a firmer grip on operational performance, more effective marketing campaigns and more-informed -- and hopefully better -- decision making. But many organizations are still in the early stages of deploying BI and analytics tools, and efforts to boost adoption face various roadblocks: siloed data, an unwillingness on the part of end users to give up their Excel spreadsheets, lack of trust in BI data, and executives who prefer to base business decisions on their prior experience and gut feelings.

At this point, there are no recipes or formulas that can be universally applied to turn businesses into data-driven companies. "We're still learning about best practices [for analytics]," data science and statistical analytics guru Nate Silver said while speaking at a conference in Boston last August. "We're still thinking about standards. We're early in the process."

But there are some ways to start heading down the data-driven path. At the 2016 TDWI Executive Summit in Las Vegas, we asked experienced BI and analytics managers to detail their top to-do item for creating a data-driven organization. Their answers, incorporated in verbatim form below, ranged from traditional must-have project management steps, such as securing executive support and getting business units involved, to being passionate about the analytics process in order to help sell the idea of becoming a data-driven company internally.

Naveen Jain, vice president of digital analytics at First Tech Federal Credit Union: "The biggest thing is having the right level of engagement and alignment with the business. Unless you have that, it's very, very difficult."

Alexander Ryabov, head of data services and BI at online games maker "Small successes and quick wins. Momentum is a big thing. You still need to have a long-term strategy and a big goal, but you have to get to it in increments."

David Schaefer, then chief BI architect in Intel's sales and marketing IT group (and now principal analytics architect at healthcare organization Kaiser Permanente): "Executive support is the most important thing. [BI usage] didn't really take off for us [at Intel] until the executives started to say that this was really important to the company."

Dewayne Washington, BI manager at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: "Find your top expenditures or revenue sources and see what fluctuates on a regular basis, then use BI to attack that problem. When you do that, you get everyone's attention."

Chi-Yi Kuan, director of business analytics and data mining at LinkedIn: "Passion, because the journey is not an easy one. The data side is very, very big, and if you don't have passion for this idea, you're likely to give up."

Wendy Gradek, product manager for data visualization at EMC: "As an individual, you need to believe in a vision and then share it internally. It's a lot of selling -- but if you believe in what you're doing, selling it is easy."

Next Steps

Read more on what Nate Silver said about creating data-driven companies

There's more to building a data-driven culture than deploying self-service BI tools

Listen to a podcast on the benefits and challenges of being more data-driven

Dig Deeper on Business intelligence strategy