Actions speak louder than words: Moving from digital transformation to ‘data transformation’

Actions speak louder than words: Moving from digital transformation to ‘data transformation’
Tim Christensen is the CTO of SocialChorus and is responsible for shaping the product vision, leading technology innovation, and ensuring the product experience delights SocialChorus customers. Prior to SocialChorus, Tim built a career of nearly 20 years leading, designing, developing and supporting large-scale software platforms and their teams in a range of industries from entertainment, manufacturing, government, e-commerce, marketing, finance, and technology. The common thread throughout Tim’s career has been to build great teams with the purpose to deliver elegant solutions to complex problems. Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Oregon.

Digital transformation has been a buzzword for quite some time now. Despite being viewed by a few people as an over-the-top term by over-zealous vendors, digital transformation has had an impact on businesses in a very real way. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts that the global economic impact of digital transformation will hit $100 trillion by 2025.

Unsurprisingly, when something like digital transformation comes along other terms or initiatives tend to piggyback off it, which is why conversations are now turning to data transformation. Business leaders shouldn’t take data transformation as simply more marketing noise. While it may not be seen as particularly innovative, there is substance behind it which is why we need to understand where the real opportunities lie.

Data transformation – another buzzword?

Data transformation splits into two key categories; operational data and organisational data. Operational data is nothing particularly new and something we all know about. Business leaders have had it at their fingertips forever and it’s not actually transformation, it’s an iteration. It’s where we are able to get more data and thanks to smart devices, in real-time.

Operational data has been helping organisations to keep ahead of their game. For example, UPS have been utilising RFID, tracking every single package for years. They know how many parcels are being delivered to where and when, they even know where they are in the truck. It’s not rocket science.

Operational versus organisational – the difference

Operational data is quantifiable. There’s not a lot of ambiguity to it, it simply presents the facts from which you can make decisions and take action, there and then. Organisational data, however, is a lot more ambiguous and, as such, we haven’t seen as much effort from the software industry or demand from businesses to truly understand or utilise organisational data but believe me, it’s a game changer!

Now, of course, there are some businesses such as Workday, who are trying to get meaning out of the data they have but it is probably best described as book end information. The hire or fire data, the market analysis versus the company status, for example. There are others trying to grab the data from sources such as Glassdoor or social sites but, essentially, it’s a reactive based process. It would be like you saying you’re dehydrated and that you’d better drink some water.

By that stage it’s too late, there should have been some leading indicators to highlight that there was a problem, or perhaps an opportunity, rather than feeling thirsty and acting after the fact.

Why you need to care

What’s really transformative about organisational data is how businesses can change it into insight. Actionable insight. As a business leader, you can make the move from being opaque, behaving on instinct and being reactive, to basing decisions on real information and become better informed, transparent and, most importantly, proactive.

What's more, you can naturally enable the leadership team to do the same, you can enable managers and many others in the business to gain real insight from your organisational data and make informed decisions. That’s what I believe to be a real transformative opportunity.

Not all data is meaningful

You may argue that you’re already doing this through collaboration tools, productivity or engagement platforms but, believe me, you’re not. These platforms are limited because they tend to measure peoples’ words not their actions and that is what’s so important – actions speak louder than words.

There are so many nuances with collaboration tools that only one-to-one conversations are measured. It would be like trying to measure a conversation between colleagues in the break room. The fact they’re chatting, does that make them happy employees or does it just mean they happen to have a friend at work? Either way, collaboration wouldn’t help you to decipher the facts.

Organisational data can find leading indicators in behaviour that correlate to health, culture, attrition and opportunities. Do they read the company email, watch the CEOs videos, contribute to voluntary programmes, share news from their department or region? Or do they trawl the HR parts of the system reviewing their benefits, vacation allowance and pay checks? These indicators will highlight the things that people choose to do rather than the things that they have to do. And it’s choosing to do rather than having to do something that helps us to really gauge the health of our workforce.

This type of insight helps to build leading indicators and provides real insight into a workforce as a whole, broken down by regions, departments, team or right down to the individual in question. But how long does it take to gather that kind of data on each employee? What you need are indicators that clearly show not just the stuff people have to do (like clocking in and out) but also the stuff in their jobs that they want to do. The stuff they want to do right now.

If you look at the world beyond the workforce, people have been using data in this way for years. They’ve studied species, populations, economic performances and even weather patterns, to name just a few examples. They’ve been able to look at that data and been able to spot trends that then become key indicators. So why haven’t we been able to do it for our businesses? The answer is because we haven’t been capturing the data that really matters.

What you don’t know

Just because John Smith clocks in and out of work on time doesn’t mean he’s a productive worker, or a happy one for that matter. Just because people say they’re happy in the company survey doesn’t mean they actually are, they could be keeping things sweet for that end of year bonus.

You may notice, for instance, that retail workers in some of your stores, with a tenure of three to six months, have suddenly had a significant decrease in engagement with company updates and newsletters. That data means that you’ve got a window of time to identify a problem that’s either causing a decline in engagement, or indeed, prepare yourself for an attrition problem with this particular group of employees.

Time management data won’t tell you this because people are still clocking in and out. Even sales information won’t warn you of this because the reports are usually run quarter by quarter. You need to capture the right engagement data, at the right time and then you’ll then be able to identify and address attrition problems before they occur.

For years there was talk about business intelligence and big data, which evolved into the digital transformation conversation, and now, data transformation. We have never been at this point before – data just got very real and if we use the right tools, in the right way at the right time we will be able to gather the right information. That information means we can be a lot smarter in how we run our companies, and how we engage our people.

This isn’t about looking back at old data, this is about looking at the information now, in real-time so that we can make meaningful and impactful decisions. I believe so many people can’t see the forest for the trees. Too many people think data transformation is about operational data when the real opportunity is in organisational data. Now is the time to connect those dots to provide proactive insights and transparency across your business.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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