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The fine line between data-driven culture and being data-obsessed

It seems as though everyone is rallying behind the notion of a data-driven culture these days, and Gartner is no exception. The consultancy has conducted surveys and released research documents that tout its importance and provide insight into how CIOs can build a data-driven culture in the enterprise.

But there are moments when too much of a data-driven culture can lead to an unhealthy data obsession. CIOs would be wise to walk the line.

Case in point: Analysts Alan Duncan and Frank Buytendijk released the research note How to Establish a Data-Driven Culture in the Digital Workplace in June 2015, which included a list of top-down recommendations such as finding the right talent and educating the troops to successfully make the transition. But Duncan and Buytendijk’s research also included a word of caution: “Companies should not become data obsessed,” they wrote. Doing so is a little like putting blinders on a horse.

Duncan and Buytendijk listed three instances where a data obsession can work against the enterprise.

  1. Unavailable data. There are instances when the data is unavailable or inaccessible or simply doesn’t exist yet, such as when entering a new market, according to Duncan and Buytendijk. But a lack of data doesn’t automatically preclude data-based decision-making. When CIOs run into this experience, the Gartner analysts suggest using alternative techniques such as scenario planning or “what if” modeling.
  2. Ethical dilemmas. Data isn’t great at distinguishing between right and wrong, and so making data-driven decisions in a bubble can hurt the business. Supporting a staff or a neighborhood initiative, for example, may not make good business sense on paper, but engaging with the community can pay off in ways that cannot be measured by business metrics or key performance indicators, the authors wrote. Or, in the Big Brother world of big data, businesses have discovered that just because they can leverage their data doesn’t always mean they should.
  3. Metrics obsession. Metrics and innovation don’t always mix. In fact, according to the analysts, having a singular focus on current performance metrics can create what’s known as “analysis paralysis,” where so much time is spent analyzing the data that a decision never gets made and risks are never taken. Being too metrics- obsessed can also have unintended consequences, according to the analysts, creating instances where the desired employee behavior doesn’t necessarily correspond with what’s being measured. CIOs should step back and remember that “not all decisions can be supported with data, and there will be occasions when evidence is not taken into account,” the authors wrote.

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