If there is one term newscasters seem to enjoy it is "the new normal". Crying fake news seems a bit passé, but I struggle with the proliferation of this phrase. Normal implies a sense of equilibrium, a modicum of order and proportion having been restored. We are not there yet. Even in those countries where coronavirus caseloads have declined significantly, society is still operating with a constantly evolving set of restrictions. Human behaviour is adapting to suit.
Organisations too have been rocked by changes. Whether these have benefitted a sector, like pharma, or sounded a virtual death knell, like aviation, navigating this changed landscape takes effort. There are important decisions that now need to be taken about the future form of any business. We know that companies that make the right strategic investments in the midst of a crisis – as opposed to indiscriminately cutting costs – fare far better than their peers.
Like digital capabilities, few can credibly argue that they have no need for data and analytics. Capabilities need to rapidly be scaled and activated in order to safeguard the continuity or market share of an organisation in a world of increased volatility and radical digital adoption. While data and analytics leaders have an important role to play in this process, it is naive to think they can move the needle by themselves. This is where the CEO needs to step up.
Executive sponsorship has always been critical to setting data leaders up for success. However, with the volume and weight of the decisions that need to be taken, both strategic and operational, passive sponsorship is not enough. CEOs need to roll up their sleeves and actively role model data driven decision making, demonstrating that this is, dare I say, the new normal. In a world that is anything but, data driven decision making should be the norm.
So what level of data and analytics literacy do CEOs need? Arguably there are three key areas they need to be able to champion. Firstly, what does a data driven organisation look like? What capabilities are required for analytics? Secondly, how should they put in place the talent, tools, and training in order to develop these capabilities? Thirdly, how should they activate, operationalise, and measure the use of data and analytics in every part of the business?
These are not easy questions to answer, and yet CEOs need to act decisively given the financial consequences or opportunity cost involved of doing otherwise. The more chief executives are able to educate themselves and build their confidence in these areas, the easier it will be for them to make the right decisions. We are used to seeing business qualifications in the boardroom, but maybe it is time that this includes data and analytics degrees as well.
Everyone likes to feel special and data leaders are no different. We want to believe that we are the agents of change in our organisations, but the fact of the matter is that CEOs are the ones with the hand on the tiller. Particularly in the coming months we need to therefore ensure that we are not only developing our own teams' knowledge and confidence, but those of our chief executives as well. The more they are empowered, the better the outcomes will be for us all.