Data analysis tools don't create data-driven culture

Businesses want to be more data-driven, and vendors are capitalizing on the demand with sleek, self-service tools. But it's culture, not tools, that creates a data-driven organization.

Analytics vendors are betting heavily that easy-to-use tools will increase adoption within organizations. Just in the last few months, my inbox has filled with press releases promising products that "bring analytics to the masses." They all propose to solve the problem of low analytics adoption within a company by making the data analysis tools simpler.

But, it seems to me, the tools aren't the problem; it's the culture within organizations.

The acknowledgement from vendors that people prefer, and are more likely to use, simple tools is not new -- and it's obvious. Granted, the tools released today are likely much easier to use than those that came out 10 or 15 years ago. But even as tools become simpler, adoption hardly improves.

There's a general adage I often hear from analytics professionals that adoption of data-driven tools typically tops out at around 20% of a business's total workforce. This is a number that holds pretty steady, regardless of the tool that the IT department or analytics teams give workers.

20% ceiling hinders data analysis tools

Hard evidence seems to bear out this number, and, in some cases, actually makes 20% look like a generous estimate. In the latest Wisdom of Crowds BI Market Study from Dresner Advisory Services, nearly 40% of the firms surveyed said fewer than 10% of their workforce use data analysis tools. More than 20% of respondents said penetration was from 11% to 20%. Less than a quarter said penetration was more than 40%.

One pixel Claudia Imhoff on analytics-driven orgs

What's really remarkable about those numbers is that they are down from previous years, which means that even as tools are undeniably getting easier to use, front-line workers are not embracing them at any higher rates.

There are plenty of reasons why front-line workers may refuse to embrace new analytics tools. For one thing, people don't like changing the way they do things. Along the same lines, people aren't going to embrace new approaches if they don't see a reason to do so. A marketing manager, for example, isn't going to start using a shiny, new, self-service analytics tool just because it's plunked down in front of her. It's up to the analytics team to explain to her how it will help her segment customers more effectively, or test and compare various campaigns to find the most effective one.

Data-driven companies endorse data users

No tool is going to remake workers who currently do not utilize data into data hounds.

But it's more than education. It's up to executives to instill a data-driven culture, and this process is decidedly unrelated to analytics tools. Workers need to know that they are being judged on how well they use data and that, to get ahead within the organization, they are going to have to become more data-driven.

Among companies I've talked to that have been successful at developing such a culture, I hear similar things: People who don't have data to support their assertions in meetings get less time to talk. Management monitors who logs into tools and considers it a performance indicator. Managers practice what they preach, letting data supplant their own gut instincts. This process is something management needs to lead.

So, for business leaders who think they can simply install one of these easy-to-use data analysis tools and, all of a sudden, have a data-driven workforce, it's important to reconsider. No tool -- no matter how simple or user-friendly -- is going to remake workers who currently do not utilize data in their day-to-day tasks into data hounds. For businesses looking to bust through that proverbial 20% ceiling, it's important to take a look at how culture is holding you back and how changing that culture can really take you to new heights.

Ed Burns is site editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @EdBurnsTT.

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