Data-Driven Decision-Making Must Start At The Top


In a recent post I discussed steps that enterprises, software vendors and educational institutions must take to attract more people to careers in data analytics.

A lot has been written about the scarcity of top-notch data analytics pros, and for good reason. If enterprises and public policy agencies are to take advantage of the huge volumes of data being created online everyday, they’re going to need data scientists with advanced data modeling and statistical analysis skills to tune and run complex analytics software.

But in addition to training a new generation of hardcore data scientists, executives and line of business leaders also need training in analytical ways of thinking, if not training in the nitty-gritty details of running the software. In other words, for data analytics to be effective, organizations must leave behind old ways of making decisions (i.e. by gut feel) and embrace data-driven decision-making.

A transition of that magnitude MUST start at the top.

So I was heartened when I read over at GigOm today that IBM is teaming up with Yale University to include data analytics training and resources as part of the school’s MBA program.

IBM will provide both software and technical experts to help teach students. It also will connect students with IBM customers that want to improve their analytics efforts so both groups can work through the best methods for doing so.

The partnership is a smart move by IBM, giving Big Blue the opportunity to introduce the next generation of corporate leaders to its analytics products while still at school.

But it will certainly benefit the students as well.

Future executives that learn analytics theories and get a little hands-on training at school are more likely to embrace data-driven decision making as they make their way through the corporate ranks. And they are more likely to reach the corner office than those that don’t understand or appreciate the power of analytics.

For current CEOs and other executives, it is not enough to simply appreciate the power of data analytics. You must also communicate the importance of data-driven decision-making throughout your organization. Humans by nature are reluctant to change. Workers that are used to making decisions by gut feel, or performing tasks a certain way simply because “that’s just the way we’ve always done it,” won’t start suddenly using analytics because you invested in a new business intelligence (BI) platform.

In addition to investing in data analytics and BI software, executives should make sure rank-and-file workers understand how they are expected to use the tools and provide significant training and resources to get workers up to speed on them. Provide incentives, rewarding workers that contribute most to the bottom-line through data-driven decision making.

And lead by example. Make data-driven decision-making part of the way you personally do business and your workers will likely follow suit.

Do you have any other advice? I’d love to hear some real-life success stories from executives that have transformed their organizations to embrace data analytics and data-driven decision-making.

Jeff Kelly is a principal contributor and analyst at He focuses on trends in business analytics and big data technologies. Reach Jeff by email at or Twitter at @jeffreyfkelly.