Dear CEO, Your Company Isn’t Ready for Data

Dear CEO,

I have to be honest with you. I appreciate that you reached out to me for help in getting your data in order. Like many of your colleagues, you realized that data can be a competitive advantage in an industry. You’re not quite sure how AI or machine learning can help your company but it seems like something you should be doing.

Your intentions and assumptions are correct but I have bad news for you. Your company isn’t ready for analytics. Despite what software vendors have told you, it’s not that easy. There are prerequisites that are needed before ever writing a single line of code and your company isn’t fulfilling them. Ethically, I can’t accept your project because I don’t think it will succeed.

That being said, I want to help you as much as I can. You can take the following suggestions and work on getting them implemented. Once they are in place, you will be in a better place to take advantage of the many data trends that you’re reading about in the Wall Street Journal. 

First, take stock as to how data is currently being used right now. You will realize that most people don’t actually use numbers even though you actually have them. This isn’t a technology problem, it’s a cultural one. Culture changes need a spark and that’s you. How can you embody the behaviors that you want your employees to adopt?

Second, you need to have a conversation with each of your key executives. Data doesn’t just live in the IT department anymore. It’s something that affects all areas of your business and every executive needs a strategic understanding of it. In these conversations, determine what each person needs to get there.

Third, start looking for specific data roles. A data analyst is a great starting point. You might realize that you don’t need more data but you do need someone who is better at mining through what is currently available. Eventually, you can also bring in a data engineer to help you solve technical challenges. 

Being a data-driven company isn’t about technology. It’s about being able to convert 0s and 1s into insights that people care about. Your focus should be on psychological and human challenges. Don’t get lost in the rabbit hole of technology yet. 

Talk soon,

Ruben

P.S. Once you start moving on these areas, you’ll start to realize that data isn’t even the end goal. The next stepping stone is decisions and how to get people to make them rapidly and reliably. That’s a topic for a future letter.

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