Here's why analysts are your secret weapon. Analysts operate on the front lines of data challenges and data projects. Because of this, they are often early advocates for cultivating a Data Culture. They are tasked with monthly, quarterly, and yearly reporting, spend their time collecting and curating data sources, and look to uncover deeper insights that support company growth and development.
A directive to develop a Data Culture (or “data-driven culture”) at an organization can manifest in two ways — from the top-down (via management or executive board) or as a grassroots movement from analysts and/or business users who are seeking better ways of getting their work done. But to create a sustainable, thriving Data Culture, organizations need to nurture an environment where everyone can repeatedly present, discover, and prove the value of data-driven insights — and where experienced analysts are lighting the way for others.
Organizations looking to build a Data Culture can benefit from the broad, multi-faceted role of the analyst, especially given the different roles they can play in developing a data-first culture.
Analysts as researchers
Auditing time and effort around data projects
Even though technology is just part of a strong Data Culture, it is an important foundation of an organization’s data strategy. Tableau Blueprint — Tableau’s step-by-step guide toward becoming data driven — explains how a clear analytics strategy is a key starting point for growing a data-driven organization, and it is an iterative process that will continue to develop.
At the discovery phase, analysts’ expertise is invaluable. They can be strong guides for processes, but they also have a deep understanding of the data and the business — all things that are essential to forming a well-defined strategy. Due to the proximity that analysts have to data projects, they can quickly gather information and understand how people are currently using data among teams. They are able to identify key roles, act as consultants for optimizing processes, and find the quick wins to help bring the rest of the organization on board.
Analysts as champions
Evangelizing a Data Culture by lighting the path
Before self-service business intelligence, organizations often had to sift through reports filled with pages and pages of charts. Modern BI tools freed up analysts’ time. Instead of spending hours updating reports, they now had time to explore the data and take on a more strategic role.
The next stage in modern BI was getting more people to be data-driven, beyond just traditional analysts. Now, as organizations think about enabling everyone with data as a strategic initiative, analysts are being charged with asking key questions around how people use and approach data — both in their behaviors and mindset. Questions like, “How are you approaching data in your day-to-day role?” or “For your work, what are the five most important things in this data set?”
As a result, analyst roles are being elevated into data champion roles. In my role at The Information Lab, I often see analysts spearheading workshops, surveys, and brainstorm sessions that can ultimately help to shape what the future of business intelligence will look like at an organization. Two key elements within the Proficiency arm of the Tableau Blueprint are Education and Analytics Best Practices. These are both tasks that an analyst can take on to heighten the impact of their work and the work of every other role. Bringing people together in this way can generate questions and increase engagement, and over time, it can change the mindset and approach to key business dashboards across the wider organization. Sharing and collaborating helps build momentum in the direction toward a Data Culture, but also to trusting the information that will be used to make important decisions.
Having analysts serve as key champions is an asset to a business, but can also be seen as a worry — what happens if they leave? But if those analysts nurture community as a part of their role, they are upskilling a new wave of citizen analysts that can help embed data into the core of the organization’s DNA. Ensuring that talent breeds talent is essential, particularly focusing on both nurturing and enabling success for individuals, and having a clear strategy of continuing to hire talent.
Analysts as advocates, evangelists, & guardians
Building a gold standard of analytical best practices bespoke to the organization
Given their expertise in the design, development, and implementation of data processes, an analyst is able to become a subject or application expert in an organization. This position can give them the tools to support building the “honeypot” areas (for example, hosting a community page on an intranet or collaboration platform), which can be a first step in building a culture of sharing.
Once they’ve gone through a discovery phase, they have an in-depth understanding of how different business areas use data and they can showcase example use cases to the wider user base. Use cases play a huge role in changing hearts and minds, as they help people find a Data Culture more relatable.
In addition to advocating for best practices, analysts can also become product advocates. For example, I’ve seen analysts work with business users to showcase individual features like report scheduling or data-driven alerts, so those business users can enhance their own dashboarding skills and make a greater impact.
Additionally, analysts can use their own tools and expertise to bring Data Culture priorities to the forefront. For example, building monitoring dashboards to understand how often key dashboards are viewed, who’s viewing them, and whether or not they are using certified data sources. If KPI dashboards aren’t getting used, then it can spark conversations with that department around things like training and education programs.
An example of a KPI dashboard to track engagement and data usage.
Tracking success indicators can help leadership understand and highlight the impact that a strong analytics strategy can have on a Data Culture. Choosing these KPIs can help to raise accountability — both from the top-down, upon the champions and evangelists building this culture, but also from the bottom up, to the executive sponsors.
Due diligence performed by analysts means that analytics is shared up to executive sponsors, and even transparently to the wider end users as well. This level of tracking and accountability ensures that a drive toward Data Culture is not a flash in the pan, but a dedicated, iterative process.
Advocating a Data Culture means freedom for the analyst
In a world striving for more data literacy and more data-driven decision making, looking to foster a Data Culture is an obvious first step. When every department and role can analyze their own data, this frees up the analyst’s task list, allowing them more time to analyze, generate smarter insights, and evangelize why a Data Culture is pivotal to success.
Using frameworks like the Tableau Blueprint in conjunction with key features in the Tableau platform can help you in this journey, but it cannot be forgotten that there is no silver bullet to creating and curating a Data Culture. It requires buy-in from all levels of the organization and a commitment to grow and nurture a community of exploration and sharing.
As the world moves forward, and technology improves, it will require iteration and development in order to cultivate success. Empowering the analyst to direct, discover, and lead some critical aspects of change will not only help create a robust Data Culture, but also help create the data leaders of tomorrow.
Ravi Mistry works at Tableau at The Information Lab.
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