I have worked with data for many years, particularly at Thomson Reuters and at dunnhumby where data was their life-blood. I have also worked at companies which had powerful data but which they did not know how to use effectively. I have seen boards frustrated at the inability of their company to deliver on "Digital" or "Analytics" and unlock the value that everyone says is there. Since I have worked across many different industries and company types, I looked for a common thread to explain this enigma.

It actually comes down to company culture, structure and policies.

In the late 1960s, Conway's Law emerged. This law was defined as "Any organisation that designs a system will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organisation's communication structure". I can attest that this law still holds true today. What I know is that any organisation that wants to use data to scale successfully must remove the barriers to sharing that data across the organisation.

Big Data isn't a magic art where your next client or product idea emerges from the data. Big Data only works when people come together who understand that data, ask the important business questions and generate the appropriate solutions.

Imagine a company that ensures that all data can be seen by all analysts in all the main functional areas. The connections between the data collected by Sales, Product Design, Support Desk and Commercial Strategy teams can then be leveraged to maximum commercial benefit. With an open culture, the analysts will also identify additional non-obvious functional areas such as Accounts Payable or Procurement.

A company that leverages its data so effectively is going to be very clear on its unique value proposition. It will make decisions which drive their market and market share and also extend their relationships with their most loyal, engaged and profitable clients.

Now imagine a company where data is siloed and restricted - sales being the only people allowed to see sales data and so on. Accordingly, sales will be reliant on a single data source to identify good clients or new prospects. They are highly likely to miss evidence that their clients, for example, are increasingly focused on only one area of their products.

How does this impact your strategy?

Put simply, when thinking about your company culture, structure and policies, you need to think across the 'normal' company divisions and design for sharing. You need to trust your staff with your data. You need to build in the understanding that data is only powerful when shared. The worst sin is to isolate and shackle data.

1. Be clear on what questions you want the data to answer.

2. Identify:

  • All the teams that make decisions on routes to market.
  • All the teams that create or gather data on your market.
  • All the data you collect or create on your operation within that market and with your clients.
  • All policies that impact the sharing of data across these key teams.
  • All prejudices that inhibit data accessibility.

3. To maximise the benefits, remodel:

  • Your teams so that all those that work most closely with the same data are directly aligned and ideally co-located. DO NOT LIMIT THIS TO YOUR TECHNOLOGY TEAMS.
  • Your policies to enable sharing and create safe spaces to do so within legal frameworks.
  • Your rewards to incentivise sharing based on the benefits created.

None of the above steps above are easy. Nor are the relevant teams and impactive data necessarily obvious. Be aware that irrelevant data within a silo may have huge relevance outside that silo. Using the teams themselves to do the identification work is critical.

The use of external support materially enhances objectivity and identifies unspoken assumptions, facilitating discovery of hidden value.

It is possible to promote sharing without a wholesale restructure. Start with the core teams to ensure that you have a strong base. Extend the analysis and changes from there. Consider your partners and suppliers. They may well have data that is of value. Encourage them to share, it is to both parties interest and would cement a beneficial relationship.

Finally, as you become increasingly able to intuitively understand how to organise your company to get the most value from your data, look at the interrelationship between Culture, Operating Model and Data.

Now you are sharing data and insights freely and looking for more data to support and enrich your decisions, you will hit the multiples of value that Big Data originally promised.

Let me finish with this: if Jeff Bezos made Amazon the behemoth it is today by mandating the use of APIs, can you afford not to mandate the sharing of data to unlock the potential in your clients and market?

After all, shared knowledge is power.

Chris B Lord is Group CIO at Collinson, the customer loyalty experts operating in the travel and insurance sectors through brands like Columbus Direct and Priority Pass