Data Domains: Fantastic data initiatives and where to find them

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It was great to be at Big Data London last week. Beyond the novelty of interacting with complete humans again (and not just their heads via Teams calls) I was also lucky enough to be asked to present on a topic that I’m passionate about: finding fantastic data initiatives that will generate business value and underpin a data-driven transformation.

In particular, I described the use of ‘data domains’ as a great mechanism to align business and data stakeholders and create an environment in which fantastic initiatives can be discovered. If you missed the talk, here is a quick summary of what was discussed.

The data opportunity

Data is the lifeblood of the digital age – delivering strategic value if allowed to course through the arteries of an organisation. It holds the potential to create smarter, leaner organisations able to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive (and digital) market.

The Big Data LDN showcased the best and brightest technologies available to deliver on this vision, but the reality is that creating lasting data-driven value is not (just) about the tech. Building a data-driven organisation is more about culture than code, more about change than cloud, and more about strategy than software.

In my talk I focused on a topic that is pivotal to finding and prioritising great initiatives that will deliver lasting value for your business. I spoke about why this isn’t a trivial consideration, before describing our use of ‘data domains’ as a mechanism to create a focal point for discussion of specific data initiatives and a way to improve collaboration between business and data functions. But first, a thought about data literacy…

Becoming a data-literate business

Investing in data literacy within your organisation (building to a universal understanding of the language of data and the opportunity it represents) is an important way to connect both your technical and non-technical teams. By uniting people capable of building new data solutions with stakeholders in other departments, as well as enthusiasts who are intellectually curious about the potential of data, project leads and their IT teams, you begin to form cross-departmental working groups that offer more diversity of thought to address different business scenarios. These communities will come up with your ‘long list’ of initiatives – where ‘fantastic’ can be found.

Identifying fantastic initiatives that drive value

Whilst thinking up data initiatives seems easy, finding the exact right data initiatives is not. There are many reasons why this is difficult, but a major factor has to be the knowledge and experience gap that exists between business stakeholders and data practitioners.

Prioritising the right initiatives is essential to building confidence in the business around new ways of working. And it is incredibly easy to choose the wrong initiative, creating a capability that is disconnect from business behaviours, or something that works really well on a laptop but has no hope of being deployed into production or becoming part of BAU.

The role of data domains

As a team, we get to help customers discover the exact right capabilities to create. To achieve this, we use a range of mechanisms to create the right collaborative environment between data professionals and business stakeholders – in my talk I described the use of Data Domains as an important tool to enable fantastic initiatives to be discovered and prioritised.

We can think of data domains as themes that allow us to connect aspiration business objectives with specific data capabilities. Domains can be used to engage leaders and create a focal point for the discussion of specific initiatives, so that the right business outcomes can be identified and delivered.

Here’s 5 key domains that in my experience cater for the majority of customer scenarios and are highly observable in terms of their impact:

Using data domains takes us away from any language around the potential of data or AI, and instead focuses on the conversation on business aspirations. It also helps to prioritise and focus the conversation – of course, we all want to create more informed, engaging, intelligent, efficient, sustainable businesses but what is the highest priority? If we want to create a more intelligent business, then what are the most important decisions we’d love to get right every time? If we want a more efficient business, then which process would we love to automate?

A case in point. 

One of the best examples of the power of using domains I’ve seen was when working with a major insurance company.  This company had previously invested in data through the lens of a series of innovative initiatives focused on solution areas.  They had invested in ’an AI initiative’, ‘a blockchain initiative’, ‘a big data initiative’ etc.  None of these investments had delivered any value, and the leadership were running out of patience with their data programs.

When we collaborated with them to help them move forward, we looked at the use of data domains to create a more business-focused framework against which to guide investment. We determined that the ‘intelligent’ lens (iteratively enabling more effective decision making) was the best domain to start with – and one that would deliver the impact they were looking for.

We refocused the investment on decision improvement. We identified key decision-making processes across a range of business areas (from resource forecasting to customer call handling), turning them into more effective, data-led decisions.

Engaging stakeholders: building bridges with data domains

The example above was a great success because it created a consistent language across the business for data-led value generation and enabled business stakeholders to more quickly buy into the change required. Designing successful data initiatives using data domains can be an effective way to create a bridge between functional areas successfully aligning business outcomes and data potential. For example formulating what you are trying to do / become vs what you are trying to build.

Are you ‘ready’?

Identifying a fantastic initiative is the first part of the solution – but we need to consider an organisation’s readiness to undertake the initiative. Some tough questions to ask yourself include:

  • Are we ready to implement the change required to realise the value?
  • Do we have the right data available to succeed? How do we address this if not?
  • Do we have the right platform to support this initiative?
  • Do we understand our stakeholder needs well enough? Are we able to see the situation through the right frame(s) of reference?
  • Can we measure and report on our impact?

In summary: 4 step action plan

  • Build data literacy – Invest in building understanding of the data opportunity with non- technical audiences. Spark curiosity and enthusiasm. Connect and unite your technical and non-technical teams. Celebrate ideation.
  • Use data domains to define ‘fantastic’ – Zero in on the impact you are looking to create. What initiatives will deliver this impact? Where will you ‘see’ value – and in what timeframe?
  • Engage stakeholders and build bridges across the knowledge gap – use data domains to engage leaders and create the focal point for discussion of specific initiatives, allowing an idea to become structured and permitting objective evaluation and prioritisation of projects.
  • Develop organisational readiness – Think through critical success factors and objectively assess your readiness to take on the level of change you are proposing. Implement any required corrective action – or resize your ambition accordingly.

Data domains provide a great framework for discussing and evaluating high-impact initiatives with business stakeholders, guiding you towards the most ‘investable’ initiatives that deliver the most value to your business.

Rich Pugh is Mango’s co-founder and Chief Data Scientist. If you would like further discussion around identifying and prioritising the right data initiatives in your organisation, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.