9 Secrets Of Data-Driven Companies

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What does it mean to call your company "data-driven?" Definitions range from simple reporting to viewing data science as a core business strategy. We asked executives from a variety of businesses to help us identify which traits are essential for becoming a truly data-driven company. See what we learned, and tell us how your organization stacks up.

The competitive landscape is shifting rapidly in virtually every industry, fueled by the intelligent application of technology and data. While nearly all companies have more data than they know what to do with, a powerful minority is discovering new ways of leveraging it.

"Everyone is trying to figure out what the best route is, and what value data science can bring to the business," said Vivian Zhang, CTO and founder of the NYC Data Science Academy.

Internal fragmentation is one of the biggest obstacles facing companies as they seek to become data-driven. Data remains trapped under the control of a given department or business unit. The fact often frustrates efforts to use data strategically across the enterprise.

[Once you have the data, how do you use it? Read 10 Data Visualization Tools to Bring Analytics Into Focus.]

"Many organizations have made progress in some area, but are still deficient in other areas. That speaks to the challenge of bringing everything together to optimize it and to take advantage of what the promise of big data holds," said Tim Herbert, senior VP of research and market intelligence at industry association CompTIA.

Of course, orchestrating everything requires more than technological problem-solving. It requires cultural transformation, which is often the largest stumbling block of all.

"To create an ecosystem in which data-driven culture thrives, you have to have a strong balance of strategy, IT, and statistics, all working in harmony," said Joshua Jones, managing partner at analytics and intelligence consulting firm StrategyWise. "Too often we see academically focused projects that lack a business output. Or, you know what your competitors are doing, but your IT systems aren't there. [Alternatively], you have great IT systems, but you don't have the statistical expertise that enables you to get beyond reports that show you in the past."

The term "data-driven" itself is being challenged. The phrase has been around for about a decade, and much has changed in that time span. Alternative descriptions include "data-informed," "insight-driven," and "data-science driven," all of which reflect a broad state of data-savviness. The first option focuses on decision-making, the second stresses action, and the third reflects use of the scientific method. The last concept is worth noting from a cultural perspective because the most advanced companies are less likely to confine scientific thinking to data scientists or the data team.

"A company becomes data-driven when it subscribes to three things," said Sham Mustafa, founder and CEO of data science job marketplace Correlation One. "One: Everything can be measured. Two: Data reduces uncertainty and drives better decisions. Three: Data is a part of the core business strategy."

The bottom line? The notion of becoming data-driven is continuing to evolve as the market matures. Here's a look at the characteristics of today's most sophisticated data-driven companies. Once you've reviewed these, tell us how your company stacks up in the comments section below.

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