By Inge Magne Bruvik, Microsoft MVP and Solution Architect at Cepheo

 

The world has never generated and stored more data than it does now, and the amount of data we keep collecting and saving will no doubt just keep increasing. This is true on both a societal, organizational and personal level.

 

So how can you make sense of all this data and how can we use it to make better business decisions in the future? To become a data-driven organization is a goal for many organizations, but this raises another question: What does it really mean to be data driven?

 

In the early days of data warehousing and reporting platforms, advanced reporting was often limited to  an organization’s top management. At the time, and to some extent today, this only seemed natural, since top management were the ones who made the most important decisions on an organization’s future direction.

 

But does that mean that the rest of the organization does not need data for their decision making? Of course not. And are we sure that all those large data warehouse projects were really worth it?

 

The right data, rather than more data

 

I recall some of the data warehouse projects I have observed over the years with amusement. Particularly a case where the top management were given access to data warehouse reports, but instead of analyzing the data, they spent most of the leadership meetings discussing who had the right perspective on the data rather than discussing what the data actually told them. I am sure that I am not the only one with experiences like that.

 

In recent years we have seen a shift into what we would call a “democratization” of the reporting and data analysis that is being done in many organizations. This is made possible through new tools and platforms that are available to end-users without having to pay someone big money to make data available.

 

Platforms such as Microsoft Power BI, or similar tools, focus on the idea that a lot of reporting should be self-service and possible with little or no coding.

 

But does giving everyone access to build their own reports and view their data as they see fit solve all our problems and make us data driven? I think we definitely have to answer no to that question.

 

So what is a data-driven organization?

 

The definition I like to use is that a data-driven organization is one that is able to use data and the insight that data gives them to guide their decision making processes. At the same time, it is also important that organizations understand that being data driven is not only about technology and tools, but also about their culture. To become data driven, you need the right tools, but also a way to create a culture that will help you build the vision of becoming data driven.

 

So how should you look at reporting in order to help your organization become data driven?

 

I think one important thing to understand is that different levels within an organization have different reporting needs. So to be successful with becoming truly data driven, you need to provide each level of your organization with the right kind of data that is aggregated in the right kind of way.

 

At a general staff level, employees will often need detailed data in their reports, and they will often need to use ad-hoc reports to quickly pull up data on their screens.  At the same time, it is important that they are not drowning in data they don’t need.

 

The management level will often look at data that are summarized to give them insight into trends and a general status in their part of the business. Even though the management level also needs ad-hoc reporting, most of their analysis will be with data that is more aggregated than we typically find at the general staff level.

 

At the leadership level, they will often need to analyze KPIs and financial reports that give them a good insight into how the business is performing as a whole. Dashboards will often be very helpful for the leadership to get a good overview of the information that is most important for them to see.

 

To build a data-driven organization and culture, you need to take two important steps. First, give each level of your organization the data they need in a useful format. Second, train them on how to use those data to make decisions.

 

When working to make organizations data driven, there are lessons to be learned both from other organizations and from those who are working in the consulting business and providing reporting solutions.

 

Consultants such as myself are often asked if we can build one or more reports for our customers. The standard answer we often give is: “Of course, how do you want the report layout to be?”  But to really help our customers build a data-driven culture, we might have to change our answer to: “What do you want to analyze and why do you need to do this?” I believe that answers like this allow for a more fruitful discussion with the organizations we serve and add greater value to be reports that are being created.

 

In summary, these are my 3 key takeaways:

 

  1. To become a data-driven organization, you need to use data to guide your decisions and foster a culture that supports this vision.

  2. To meet the different reporting needs of your organization, you need to have data that are tailored to enable analysis and decision-making at each level of the organization.

  3. As an organization, you should expect your external consultants to challenge you and ask the right questions in order get the insight you need.

 

About the author:

 

Inge Magne Bruvik is a Norwegian Solution Architect with close to 30 years of experience in the Microsoft space. He is an MVP in Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professionals (MVP) program, which recognizes exceptional community leaders for their technical expertise, leadership, speaking experience, online influence and commitment to solving real-world problems. At Cepheo, Inge Magne specializes in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central.

 

Originally published as a LinkedIn-article in the fall of 2023.

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