How To Lead A Data Driven Organisation

Working with AI to make better business decisions

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella once said, “We are pursuing AI so that we can empower every person and every institution that people build with tools of AI so that they can go on to solve the most pressing problems of our society and our economy.” This is what’s at stake as we enter a world where machine learning is no longer a luxury or an outlier, but a norm.

If the First Industrial Revolution was about steam and railroads, the Second about electricity, and the Third brought about by the Internet, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is based on artificial intelligence (AI). It will completely change the way business is done and companies are run in the next five to ten years, just as the Internet has done in the last ten. The transformation will be bigger than that any previous revolution has brought about. To compete in the new landscape of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, organisations will be required to drive value by leveraging the vast amount of data they already possess with sophisticated machine-intelligence modeling techniques.

This Fourth Industrial Revolution has already begun. Executives and business leaders now have the responsibility and opportunity of figuring out how to transform their organisations into data – and model-driven enterprises, the only way to ensure survival and growth in the coming years.

There are two primary phases of this transition. The first is making your enterprise data-driven, the second is making it model-driven. In the first phase, data is leveraged to make better business decisions: all business decisions. As your organisation progresses, however, it will start embedding machine-intelligence modeling techniques and automation in its daily operations. Advanced machine-intelligence techniques will give you the predictive power required to survive and thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Less think, more know

Nonetheless, please remember that the Fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t purely about the rise of the machines. We need data to make better decisions, but we don’t want data to make our decisions for us. This will require a new mindset; a mindset that acknowledges the value of data in service of leadership. To make this transition, start by transforming yourself. Stop asking what you think. Start asking what you know: what does the data tell you?

When you lead by example, your direct reports will also start changing their habits, as will their direct reports, and so on down the line. Your team looks up to you. Champion data and use a data-first approach when making business decisions. The data-and model-driven mindset will quickly amplify throughout the organization.

The biggest problem you face in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not data or technology. It’s people, culture, and process. These are where you’ll find the barriers that prevent companies from fully embedding machine-intelligence technology. Everything starts with you and your people.

Look at yourself and how you behave. Look at your people and how you are leading and rallying them around this game-changing technology. Look at the change management required to create an infrastructure that can both handle an ever-increasing flood of data and generate the best responses to the predictions that sophisticated machine-intelligence models make.

Executives are the problem… and the solution

Without wishing to sound harsh, you are an executive because you have the power to lead. If your organisation is not embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, you are in a far better position to do something about it than most other people in your company.

Most business leaders don’t understand the machine-intelligence space or how to create an environment where data scientists and technical teams can work together seamlessly with business teams, so that all parties thrive. Data science and machine intelligence are top-down initiatives.

Trying to make such bold changes from the bottom up is a recipe for failure. Changes in business processes must come from the top. They must come from the CEO, who should champion data and create a culture in which data scientists and the technical team can succeed and thrive.

How can you do this? Create links between technical and non-technical people and fund educational programs that will reskill, upskill, and create new skills among current employees, enabling your company to leverage this technology and these techniques to harness data to increase the services you provide to your clients, customers, or users. This will push and grow your organisation.

Critical thinking

You don’t have to become a data scientist, but you do have to develop the critical thinking that will enable you to evaluate machine-learning technology, models, and outcomes quickly and intelligently. If you develop such critical thinking, you’ll be able both to critique results and create a machine-intelligence strategy. You’ll be able to think about how to leverage the data you have to create greater modeling and forecasting power for your organisation.

Finally, always celebrate wins! Once you embark on this journey and generate ROI, showcase your accomplishments. CEOs often tell me, “We ran an education program. Our employees created amazing projects that were embedded in our system, but we never celebrated them. Other departments don’t know about them.”

Don’t let this happen to you. Celebrate wins. Word of mouth is important because it helps cross-pollinate. If one department successfully creates and implements a model, showcase it as a case study to the entire organisation.

Large organisations can transform

You may find it difficult to believe that an organisation as large as your own can transform as profoundly as the Fourth Industrial Revolution demands. I know it’s possible because I’ve seen it done.

Short-term changes can be made quickly. Figure out the change management required and the cultural and funding aspects involved. These are all vital steps to bootstrapping your organisation into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Companies that harness data with advanced modeling techniques will be able to fight and win in this fast-paced, competitive, exponentially growing and changing landscape.

Start small

If you’re just starting, start small. When you start small within different departments, you create a hub-and-spoke infrastructure eventually capable of changing the entire organization. People will start thinking differently and adopting the right mindset. They will begin getting their data into the right shape and understanding how to translate their business problems into data problems.

Slowly but surely, they will get into the habit of solving business problems with data and modeling techniques—even if they don’t know and never intend to learn how to code.

Solving problems

I’m willing to bet that all your top five business problems can be solved by leveraging data and modeling techniques. Machine-intelligence projects are the future of business innovation, and innovation is what drives monetization. What new machine-intelligence-based products and services could you create to attract revenue and grow your business? Bring them to the table and get started on this fascinating journey.

We are living in an era of Human + Machine. The technology is here to augment and extend your intelligence. It is not trying to replace you or make decisions on your behalf. Simply put, it’s a “brain helper” in an era of a wealth of data and unbounded opportunity. Embrace this technology, as it can complement you and help push your organisation to the next level. Data will enable you to learn, and better, cleaner, and more reliable data will help you to learn exponentially. Data is critical, and its care and cultivation are ultimately your responsibility.

Nir Kaldero is the author of Data Science for Executives: Leveraging Machine Intelligence to Drive Business ROI, from which this article is adapted.

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