From data strategy to organisational structure: organisational development in balance and people as success factors

27 November 2018

Article written by Peter Reddering, Principal Consultant

Data is nothing… But nothing is something too

If you are one of the between 1 and 3 million people who watch the Dutch TV programme “Boer zoekt vrouw” [Farmer Wants a Wife], you’ll certainly recognise that legendary quote from one of the farmers, Marnix, the king of sleeveless fashion. Whereas Marnix the cattle farmer was talking about the “candidate” Janneke, we could say the same about data.

Because data is indeed nothing. It’s nothing more than a collection of ones and zeros… until you do something with it! And keep doing it to create a learning, adaptive organisation. In this way, nothing becomes something great.


Two things to make something from nothing: direction and get started!

In order to make something from nothing, you need to do two things.

Firstly you must target the data – i.e. translate it into insights and application in order to contribute towards the business strategy. Something that is actually easier than it sounds. For this problem, we have developed the Target to data model to clarify where the most value can be developed with data & analytics.

The second thing you need to develop long-lasting value with data is to structure your organisation to get off to a successful start. Keeping data working permanently demands staying power and a structural and broader approach. How you do this and where you can best start will be addressed in this article.


Keeping data-driven work working permanently – broader than technology

Now that most organisations are “out of the dark” when it comes to the potential of data and have done their first successful pilots, it begs the question of how to embed it into the organisation and what is required to do so. And not just in terms of technology, like in the early days of big data, but actually in terms of a broader organisational perspective. Think of questions like:

  • How do I shape a data department,
  • Where in the organisation do I put it,
  • What kind of people do I need,
  • How many people do I need, and
  • What exactly have they got to be able to do?

In order to answer these questions, first let’s look at the bigger picture of the data value chain and what it requires of organisations.


The data value chain and the role of director

In order to permanently cash in on the goldmine that data appears to be, organizations must succeed in mastering the data value chain and optimizing it.

data value

This demands a mastery of all organisational aspects. Of people, organisation, processes, data and systems. Whereas up to now data and the associated organisational components have often been operational in nature, now you want to shift up in maturity towards more strategic aspects. Up to ultimately conducting the direction on the basis of facts.


Organisational aspects in balance: the chain is only as strong as its weakest link

As the role of data shifts from a supporting one towards a strategic or even directing role, this demands that organisations develop all these aspects in balance. You may well have skilled analysts working for you, but if the business is unable to incorporate or apply it, it isn’t going to work. You may well have good data, but if your procedure for processing it is manual, you’ll never develop the speed to apply the data successfully. You may well have a culture where people have the courage to experiment and do things. Successfully helping the organisation only works when people work together and don’t hide inside organisational silos. And you can unleash the same arguments on any other imbalance in the various maturity aspects of the organisation.

The combination of different levels of ambition linked to the different organisational aspects together constitute a powerful tool to establish ambitions and organisational impact. And to use them in a targeted and harmonious way to direct the required change. If you know which aspects you need to change, and which gaps need to be filled, the next valid question is: where to start?

Growth model


Success starts with people! – Four factors for success with the human dimension

Experience always teaches us that success is impossible without the human factor. This breaks down into four aspects:

  • It starts with leadership: belief and sponsorship from management to shape the transition towards data-driven working
  • Then, the right people who turn data into insights and who understand where data can add value. This means professional analysts and data scientists who have enough business knowledge to get to the core of the matter. You can either recruit new people externally or develop them from the talent already present in the organisation using training, education and coaching.
  • And the people who are able to apply those insights – the business – and are able to increase value by asking the right follow-up questions. This in particular is often still underestimated. But just as analysts need to be able to bridge the gap to business issues, business people too, need to be able to evolve to get a sense of the potential and applicability of data and insights. Calling out from ignorance that you “want to know everything” when asked by a BI department what you would like to know in order to be able to do your job better, is not going to help…
  • And last but not least… cooperation: linking together the previous factors into an organisational form and culture that ensure it becomes a learning and adaptive organisation. In order to be successful in the increasingly challenging landscape in which the company operates.


In conclusion

Farmer Marnix has to make the right choices by himself; data cannot help him. But organisations can definitely map a clear path in order to make something from nothing and make data work. We are glad to help them take the first steps in that process. In the form of developing a data strategy or an assessment on existing situations and strategies. And of course, by having the right people to support it because, as mentioned above, that is one of the most important sources of success. From thinking to doing it together!


Do you want to know more about this subject? Please contact Peter Reddering using the details below

Peter Reddering, Principal Consultant

+31 6 50 60 50 01

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