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Don’t talk nerd – and other current thoughts on data

Data is an asset that requires the commitment of the whole organization! But it is often talked about in overly technical terms. Stop speaking nerd! Read data professionals' top thoughts on data.

Pirja Heiskanen / November 28, 2023

Data is an intangible asset that only generates value when its used. But if you want to use data to create better business, the entire organization needs to realize that data isn’t something that the IT department takes care of – it’s a part of all business operations.

Tietoevry and Microsoft jointly brought EDM Council’s DataVision event to Finland for the first time in October 2023. Alongside the organizers, Kemira, Kesko, OP Group, the Employment Fund, Valmet, and Wärtsilä sent their delightfully straightforward experts to discuss how data creates business value.

 

Stop speaking nerd

John Bottega, President of the EDM Council, did not mince his words in his opening remarks at DataVision 2023. His central message is easy to summarize. Data is misunderstood, and the reason is clear. Top management doesn’t speak nerd.

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Data professionals need to learn how to market and tell stories, to help business leaders fully comprehend the role of data in business value creation.

“When I started my career, everyone thought that Data Management is a project with a beginning and an end,” recalled Bottega. Here’s the analogy he used to get his message through:

“No one assumes that financial management is a one-off project, after which you can simply fire the CFO. The same applies to data management. It has no end. It’s an ongoing process.”

According to Bottega, even though the necessity of data management has gradually been internalized, managers still need to be sold the idea that it is worth investing in.

“The fact that better data management creates better business hasn’t quite got through yet,” Bottega said.

Maija Nikula, Chief Enterprise Architect & CDOiQ Ambassador for Finland at Wärtsilä, echoed this sentiment in the first panel discussion of the day.

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“No one is against high-quality data, that’s quite clear. But everyone resists the effort that needs to be put into it. It’s like wanting a house, but not wanting to finance or put work into construction,” Nikula emphasized.

Nikula attributed the current situation to two reasons: first, data is an abstract thing that you cannot touch with your hands. Consequently, many people find it hard to grasp. Secondly, data is most often discussed in a technological context. Database, data integration, data platform – words like these make people think about the IT department.

“Tech terms make people think it’s something technology-related, so let’s let the IT department handle it. What people forget is that technology is just a container and data is content,” Nikula underlined.

 

Start the conversation with business requirements

DataVision 2023 included three panel discussions on data as a creator of business value.

The first discussion focused on how data can boost business success. Next, the spotlight was put on high-quality ESG data and the competitive advantage it provides. The third conversation centred around new trends that AI and the cloud bring to data management.

One guiding principle emerged strongly in the panel discussions: when a company talks about data, attention should be given first and foremost to business requirements.

Data development should stem directly from business challenges and strategy. What do you want to achieve with data? New products? More efficient production? Better quality? More loyal customers?

After this, you can determine what data is needed, who owns it, and who understands it.

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“Technology comes last. The biggest challenges in leveraging data are never technical. They relate to culture and interpersonal collaboration,” points out Pirja Heiskanen, Head of Data & AI at Tietoevry.

John Bottega neatly summarized this notion by quoting a famous saying from computer scientist Grady Booch: “A fool with a tool is still a fool.”

Tietoevry’s Head of Data & AI Pirja Heiskanen highlights that when harnessing data, it is crucial to start with business requirements before focusing on the technology perspective. You need to have a well-functioning data management process to ensure data quality, and it is not a one-time project.

It is also essential to change how people work because when it comes to effectively leveraging data, technology is not the bottleneck.

 

Change always requires a cultural shift

EDM Council, the organizer of DataVision, is an international, non-profit organization that promotes best practices, standards, and education in data management and analytics.

Highly popular DataVision events have been organized in, for example, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and India.

The first-ever DataVision event in Finland received positive feedback from partakers. The open discussion and all the participants’ enthusiasm to take Finland forward as a data-driven society were particularly appreciated.

During the day, there was a strong consensus among data professionals that data is not challenging – but changing the way people act is definitely a challenge.

Data can only be used to create better business when high-quality data is a common goal for the entire organization. For many data leaders today, change management is in fact the primary focus of their work.

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As Juha Vesanto, Data Platform & AI Tribe Lead at OP Group, stated:

“The motivation of individual employees is extremely important. We want to create a data-driven culture where everyone understands the importance of data. When people then get their hands on high-quality data and tools to use it, it’s like putting oil in the engine. Everything becomes easier and runs more smoothly.”

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The DataVision event, which explored the role of data as a driver of business value, was attended by over 100 data professionals.

The DataVision 2023 event took place on October 18th in Keilaniemi, Espoo. You can watch a recording of the event highlights on the event website.

Pirja Heiskanen
Head of Data Management, Tietoevry Tech Services

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Pirja Heiskanen

Head of Data Management, Tietoevry Tech Services

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