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November 01, 2016
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Hoodies vs. Suits: Recognizing The Culture Shift Created By A Data Tipping Point

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One of the privileges of my job is working with many different technology leaders who are major users of big data. In all types of company and industry. I get a bird’s eye view of the playing field. There’s definitely a number of skirmishes happening at the moment in the cultural revolution created by the data tipping point.

One skirmish is between new economy and legacy thinking organizations. The new economy companies are focused on innovation and making exponential leaps based on data. On the other side, legacy companies are optimizing what they have. The most written about example is Uber. Uber Rush, for example, is now coming at legacy package delivery companies at breakneck speed.

The other skirmish is going on inside many large and very sophisticated organizations. I call it the hoodie and the suit; the suit being the business owner with a vision; the hoodie is the data centric techie with a vision. The good news is both the suit and the hoodie are visionaries, but in reality when they start to combine forces and execute their value is unstoppable.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of best practices in the industry yet on how to foster this symbiotic relationship, but there are many examples of early successes. At the most fundamental level is the battle between ‘in my gut I know the business’ decisions versus ‘the data show that…’ decisions.

Without sounding too contrite, I would submit that success in this era is really about a productive collaboration, a changed role for the modern business executive, and an IT paradigm shift.

  • Collaboration: Even though our two groups generally speak different languages, and even at times think differently it is really about finding a common way to communicate. Like any relationship this takes work, and requires the suit to have confidence enough in himself to actually open up and listen. And the hoodie must be prepared with logical streams of analytics that can be communicated in the most elemental terms.
  • The changed role: In our new world, the business executive really needs to be the execution engine driven by data and not gut instinct alone. All of the greatest charts, graphs and analyses in the world are worthless if they cannot be operationalized, consumed and measured.
  • The Paradigm Shift: The manifestation is, instead of creating the ‘be all and end all’ project, start looking to create a data centric culture. Start with grabbing all the data and then figuring out how to use it. Its a shift that, for the CFO may sound like heresy. ‘So you mean you are going to hire all these and they are going to capture ALL the data, and then who knows what’s going to happen?’ Which is why its important that you talk about the value of data and the needs for a data centric culture to the management team, and start with a project to prove that value specifically against their business goals.
  • Then, what’s the governance model in this scenario and the development model, especially in highly regulated industries? How how do I ensure that I have agile sprints and can measure the results? How do I take what’s been learned and operationalize it, and then integrate with the operations of the business automatically, versus creating yet another overlay function? Thats a whole body of work too.

These are the kinds of issues that enterprises are facing today. Yet they still find it worth it. When they work it out, it creates amazing benefits for the business.

The trick is identifying that the data tipping point is happening, recognizing that the cultural shift is real, and getting in front of it to turn it into an opportunity instead of a problem.

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