Unleash power of Artificial Intelligence by cultivating a data-driven culture

closing ceremony of the Nation Digital Summit Sawela Lodge, Nakuru County on February 23, 2024.

Acting Head of the Department of Philosophy- National Open University of Nigeria Helen Titilola Olojede receives a gift award from Nation Media Group Chief Commercial Officer Kenneth Oyolla during the closing ceremony of the Nation Digital Summit Sawela Lodge, Nakuru County on February 23, 2024. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

In the fast-evolving landscape of computing, data reigns supreme and organisations have spent the past three decades accumulating vast reservoirs of information.

The recent Nation Digital Summit’s 4th Edition delved deep into the intricate dance between digital technologies and artificial intelligence, birthing a symbiotic relationship that propels technological advancements across diverse domains.

Indeed data is hailed as the new oil.

However, Clive Humby’s observation has developed into a cliché, losing much of its significance.

Data, like oil, is unusable in its raw condition.

He meant it needed to be polished, processed, and converted into something valuable.

Unfortunately, many firms have learnt the incorrect lesson, considering data as intrinsically valuable - something to be taken, accumulated, and then utilised or misused.

The challenge arises: why, despite the acknowledgment of data as the new oil, do businesses struggle to extract its full potential?

Is it a matter of data quality, inadequate tools, or perhaps the users themselves?

The crux of the issue lies in the organisation’s data culture.

During the summit, a profound exploration ensued, focusing on strategies to instill a data-driven culture in organisations undergoing digital transformation.

This article embarks on a journey to unravel the intricacies of data culture, its significance, benefits, and the potential pitfalls associated with the cultivation of a data-centric culture.

Defining data culture in the AI landscape

The term ‘data culture’ is gaining prominence, particularly in corporate settings. Data culture encapsulates a fusion of organisational behaviors, attitudes, and practices where data is revered, easily accessible, and routinely employed to steer decision-making processes.

In a true data culture, data transcends departmental boundaries and permeates every facet of the business, influencing decisions at every level.

Nation Digital Summit

Nation Media Group CEO Stephen Gitagama (centre) poses for a photo with delegates, panellists and speakers of the Nation Digital Summit at the close of the forum at Sawela Lodge in Naivasha on Friday, February 23. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

In essence, it reflects the collective mindset of individuals who not only value but actively practice and promote the use of data for informed decision-making, seamlessly integrating data into the organisation's operations, attitudes, and identity.

Cultivating an AI-driven data culture mindset

How can we cultivate such a culture? We must first begin by acknowledging that the journey to foster a robust, data-driven culture encounters hurdles, often rooted in cultural rather than technological impediments.

As organisations expand, diverse perspectives exist on the use of data in the decision-making steps, even when data is available.

Many employees rely on intuition and “years of experience”, undermining the fundamental tenet of data philosophy that “good data beats opinion.”

This realisation underscores such a cultural transformation.

Cultural transformation, not just technological upgrades, proves to be a formidable barrier for professionals in data science, AI, and digital transformation.

Establishing a data-driven culture is not an instantaneous outcome or the result of a singular initiative.

It surpasses acquiring new data processing software or investing in data infrastructure.

Successful implementation necessitates a harmonious integration of technology, policies, training, and governance.

During the summit, three critical strategies emerged as linchpins for fostering a data-driven culture within organisations venturing into digital transformation.

Leadership commitment

Securing leadership support is the first step toward ensuring that any AI and digital transformation best practices are widely adopted throughout the company.

A robust data culture requires leaders who champion data use, serving as exemplary role models for their teams.

Leaders, such as the Chief Data Officer, should be responsible for encouraging data-driven decision-making, the use of AI to automate and ensuring an environment that supports data-driven innovations.

Institutions like Moringa School provide courses such as “AI Strategy for Business Leaders”, “Building and Deploying AI Applications” and a Masterclass on “Introduction to Prompt Engineering” that are aimed at providing executives with the necessary AI skills and attitudes to develop a data-driven culture.

Data literacy and data-driven mindsets

Dedicating resources to altering perceptions and reshaping the company's approach to data lays a crucial foundation for building a data culture.

Data literacy, which is the ability to read, interpret, produce, and transmit data, must be paramount for everyone in a data-centric cultured organisation.

Data and AI skills should not be limited to data experts; everyone in the business should have a fundamental awareness of data and feel comfortable incorporating it into their everyday operations.

Therefore, a comprehensive training plan is required for all workers to understand the technical aspects, such as data analytics, data governance, data security, data visualisation, data quality control, data protection, and data-driven decision-making.

This comprehensive approach illuminates the business, facilitating the confident and widespread distribution of precise, timely, and data-driven actionable insights.

In addition to that, AI and data skills gained must be continuously nurtured. Motivating staff to produce new ideas and explore new possibilities through experimentation can be a fantastic way to transform their mindsets.

The overall goal is to debunk the notion that, while intuition and personal views are valuable, they lack substance without supporting data-driven evidence - good data facts trump simple views.

Data accessibility, sharing and protection

Fostering collaboration across departments involves breaking down boundaries and creating cross-functional teams.

This encourages an experimental culture that values data for developing new solutions, while embracing failure as a vital learning process, is crucial.

However, sharing data across departments comes with unique challenges, particularly in terms of access and security.

This necessitates the establishment of robust safeguards, policies and standards to ensure data accessibility, with every employee embracing a data protection attitude.

Nation Digital Summit

Participants follow proceedings during a session moderated by NTV Editor Dann Mwangi (top left) during the Fourth Edition of the Nation Digital Summit at Sawela Lodge in Naivasha, Nakuru County, yesterday. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Finally, a strong data-driven culture must prioritise the ethical handling of data to create customer trust and loyalty.

Challenges in crafting a data-driven culture in the AI epoch

Embarking on the quest to create a data-driven culture unveils complex challenges that vary across departments and organisational levels.

While the desire to establish such a culture is universal, 99 per cent of senior executives admit that their companies are actively striving toward this goal but implementation remains a significant hurdle.

Variances in cultural attitudes towards data and data quality issues, pose formidable barriers. Inconsistent data sometimes leads to incorrect decisions and judgments.

Another significant barrier in this attempt is the prevalence of data silos, in which various departments maintain separate data repositories with no connection.

Change management also emerges as a critical component where data leaders need to acknowledge resistance to change and recognise that transitioning to a data-driven culture demands significant organisational transformation.

The importance of a data-driven culture

Embracing a data-driven culture is more than just an internal policy. Investing in a data-driven culture is a pivotal measure for enhancing efficiency, productivity, and gaining a competitive advantage.

Data and AI tools can act as a catalyst that triggers a cascade of benefits, impacting both internal dynamics and external customer connections.

Integrating data into an organisation’s culture empowers employees with actionable information, fostering productivity, collaboration, and ethical connections with consumers.

Putting it all together

Creating a shift towards a data culture is not only achievable but also impactful, even for organisations with limited resources.

A strong data culture not only benefits the organisation as a whole but also profoundly influences individual employees.

Widely available data, encouraged usage, and a data-driven mindset enable better-informed decisions, increased transparency, and cohesive teamwork.

In conclusion, a data-driven culture in the age of AI and digital transformation yields a clear competitive edge by empowering workers to make informed decisions and fostering transparency and collaboration.

Initiating a culture transformation involves focusing on improving data literacy, providing training, and implementing general improvements that support data-driven attitudes.

By adhering to these principles, any organisation can empower its workforce to make data-driven choices and foster a data-driven corporate culture.