6 steps to build a data-driven company, according to experts

Over the past year, businesses have had to quickly adapt and adjust to new and varied patterns of customer behavior as their previous models were thrown off course. 

Those who accelerated their analytical capabilities were better able to handle huge changes in user behavior and the economic environment, as data analytics became, “an essential navigation tool,” according to senior partners at McKinsey.

2020 told us loud and clear that it would be foolhardy to always assume prior performance can predict future results. But the inexorable rise of computing power and storage, coupled with an ever-increasing array of data sources, also means that we no longer need to rely on gut decisions.

Trends can be observed and patterns identified from the vast amounts of customer and operational data that businesses are generating. And those who know how to take hold of and use those insights to chart a course for their company will be ahead of the game.

Becoming data-driven is not a ‘nice to have’

There are handsome rewards for companies that insert big data and analytics into their operations. According to PWC, these organizations enjoy 5% more productivity and 6% more profitability than those that don’t.

Meanwhile, Harvard Business School found companies that make data-driven decisions are more confident in those decisions, proactive, and able to realize cost savings. The confidence piece is backed up by founder of Off the Shelf Analytics, Adrian Coy, who told The Next Web: 

“Being data-driven actually enables organizations to take more risks because they know they can quickly see when it’s not working and course-correct when necessary.”

Sainsbury’s, one of the biggest supermarket chains in the UK, had to rush to meet demand as shoppers panic bought essentials including flour and tinned pork. Group CIO Phil Jordan told diginomica that his retailer was the first to use data insights to identify elderly, disabled, or vulnerable customers and ensure they had access to buy their groceries.

In addition to serving the bottom line, data insights can support decision-making when it comes to other areas of the business such as employee engagement and corporate social responsibility. This can lead to a better understanding of the state of mind of the staff body and the effectiveness of different CSR initiatives.

The problem is, transforming data-driven insights into impactful business decisions isn’t a simple process. In fact, a recent study by NewVantage Partners found that just 24% of respondents thought their organization was data-driven (down from 37.8% the previous year). 

According to experts, if you want to build a truly data-driven business, you can’t miss these six steps:

Step one: Create a roadmap

The first step is to create a solid foundation by thoroughly understanding the data you’re working with and creating a roadmap for insight. This involves defining how you understand, measure, and segment customer needs and behaviors, as well as how you build models to predict future behaviors, and define the right KPIs, measures, and processes.

Mike Bugembe, author of Cracking the Data Code, stated in his book that the absence of a clear strategy can lead to time and money being spent on collecting and analyzing data that looks interesting and just might prove to be useful. He wrote that generic exploration is great if your company has the time and human resources to spend on it, but if not the company could be left data-rich but insight-poor. “This puts any expected ROI at risk because data is only valuable when it is used appropriately to deliver real results,” Bugembe wrote.

Step two: Foster a culture of data literacy AND data democratization

Next, it’s important to, “put the right metrics in front of the right people,” said Coy, through reporting and analysis tools. People within the organization need to be able to understand the right KPIs – which should have been set out at the foundation stage – and define the right way to track them. This speaks to the need to have a high level of data literacy within the organization, in addition to a culture of data democratization where non-technical users can access data.

Coy said that business intelligence tools are useful at this stage and people should be coached on how to use them and understand what decisions to take, not just which buttons to press to get the report. Some of the tools used for data analytics are made by Qlik, Tableau, Thoughtspot, PowerBI, Looker, Sisense, Spotfire, Yellowfin, Targit, DataRobot, and Snowflake, among others.

Ross Perez, head of international product marketing at Snowflake told The Next Web, “These tools are vital to accessing one’s data, asking questions of it, evolving a strategy, and ‘actioning’ that strategy.”

Step three: Develop data storytelling skills within your team

To underscore the essential nature of data education, Perez said that as important as it is to ask questions of data and allow it to tell a story, it’s equally important to teach people who work with data how to tell a story with data effectively. 

Good data storytellers have the ability to convince and persuade. Studies have shown that charts and graphs can make people change their minds more easily than words can. Furthermore, according to Andy Cotgreave, technical evangelist director at Tableau, one of the best ways to keep an audience engaged is to present data in a way that is easily understood by everybody.

Step four: Gain C-level buy-in

The fourth step is to create a top-down culture for the senior management so they can ask for the evidence behind recommendations and find out how the results will be tracked. C-level buy-in to the idea of being data-driven is crucial, as is the direction that senior-level executives can give.

A McKinsey report found that executives who recognize the importance of data are open to receiving educational workshops. This display of leading by example embeds the culture of data literacy among other members of staff. And leaders who are fully on board with a data-driven culture can ensure that data is as accessible as possible, one of the tenets of data democratization.

Without support and understanding from the executive level, insights teams can be left rudderless, without a clear course to follow or precise priorities of which problems to solve and which data to analyze. This can result in an insights initiative falling flat as they fail to gain traction or deliver on what was expected.

Without strong data leadership, wrote Bugembe, organizations can fall behind their competitors in terms of winning, serving, and retaining customers.

Step five: Build a ‘consultative’ analytics capability 

Following that, build a ‘consultative’ analytics capability able to invent approaches to answer the big important business questions. This is the point at which you look for patterns everywhere and see which data points have a positive or negative correlation. According to Coy, this is important because consultative analytics can help businesses to figure out the right questions to ask of the data and the right requests to make. 

Through the lens of the pandemic, an ordinary question might be around the increase or decrease in sales but a question formed through a consultative approach would be ‘what do I need to do differently?’.

Step six: Assign accountability 

Finally, make sure there is someone who takes accountability for the data. This may take the form of a chief analytics officer or chief data officer. 

While the results are manifold and data democratization means putting responsibility in the hands of many, Coy said that, ultimately, there needs to be clear accountability so that data is used in the right way. He said: “All this depends on the data being done right. Bad data is worse than no data. Make sure there is someone responsible for it.”

Although Perez wouldn’t explicitly say if there was a right or wrong way to glean data insights, he did say that some activities were more beneficial than others.

One of the less advantageous data activities, he said, is to choose a business strategy and then find data retrospectively to back it up. “Even worse, is using data in a way that obfuscates the truth so that some trends appear stronger than they are and other trends disappear entirely,” said Perez. “It’s really counterproductive.”

Conversely, he said that, if people are trained to understand and use data appropriately, they’ll be able to enjoy the full benefits the data-driven approach can bring.

To understand how data can transform your business, check out, “The Evolution of Data in the Cloud: The Lynchpin of Competitive Advantage”, research sponsored by Snowflake.

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4 cloud and data trends to look for in 2021

In the previous decade, when all the talk for 2020 was about the 5G revolution, IoT, distributed ledger technologies, and quantum computing, no one could have imagined the turbulence that lay ahead, or the important role cloud would play in making the transition to digital work a little less bumpy. And it’s importance will only increase in the years ahead.

Gartner is forecasting global public cloud revenue to grow by 19% from $258 million in 2020 to $307 million by 2021. Despite cloud’s flexibility, scalability, accessibility, and security, there have been challenges with the adoption of a more cloud-based way of working. We spoke with experts who explained that 2021 will be a year when those obstacles — workers unaccustomed with cloud tools, applications that aren’t optimized for the cloud, and remote security — will be addressed. They foresee four trends in particular.

1. The sky’s the limit with cloud

Throughout 2020, businesses have had to adapt their models to a new way of working with 92% of small businesses in the US pivoting to online. The cloud has enabled this digitization through remote work tools and facilitating workers’ access to files and data from anywhere. IT experts predict a doubling of people working from home by 2021, and cloud usage is set to grow even more in the year ahead.

Christian Kleinerman, Senior VP of Product at Snowflake, said as much to TNW: “We’re likely to see an acceleration of the cloud and especially with the pandemic, there will be a variability of business demand and activity meaning that people will want a more elastic platform, rather than a fixed infrastructure.” 

The flexibility and scalability offered by cloud computing will assist businesses and organizations as they continue to grapple with an uncertain business environment. However, the shift to cloud will not be wholesale.

Kleinerman added: “The vast majority of companies will become cloud-only as the destination, but there’s still some way to go. It won’t be too surprising if we see a hybrid world for the next five years, as it’s very difficult to completely replace your on-premises legacy infrastructure overnight.”

2. A culture of cloud and democratized data

Creating a cloud-based culture and democratizing data will receive a lot of focus in 2021.

A workforce, outside of IT departments, that understands the benefits of cloud and can access and analyze files and data self-sufficiently, is more likely to use the cloud to its full potential. 

Manoj Nair, General Manager at Metallic, a DPaaS company, said he foresees companies investing in training and other management services that will enable them to build a cloud-based culture for their distributed workforces.

Helena Schwenk, Market Intelligence Lead at Exasol told TNW that she expects to see greater investment around self-sufficient access and analysis of data.

“Data democratization demands a shift in behaviour. This means 2021 could see a wide-spread drive across industries to foster a better data culture and form new organizational behaviors, supported in part through self-service analytics and improved data literacy programs,” said Schwenk.

Companies that invested in digital transformation projects were truly tested as lockdowns began, in some cases revealing flaws in their systems, which could be remedied by sound investments in data literacy and the right data tools and processes. 

This is according to Natalie Cramp, CEO of Profusion, a data science company, who said: “A significant number of businesses believed they had wisely invested in digital transformation or data services…but [had] not actually adapted the business itself to become data-focused or even data literate.” 

3. Multi-factor authentication and shifting perimeters

Given the sharp uptick in cybersecurity incidents when the massive shift to remote working took place, it is logical that organizations are looking to secure and protect their cloud-stored data.

The move to cloud-stored data requires a shift in the secure perimeter of an on-prem location type solution to a secure perimeter based on authentication and identity as business moves into the cloud. 

Jonathan Sander, Security Field CTO at Snowflake told TNW, organizations can no longer rely on a secure network used by all employees in the same location as its primary layer of security for data protection. He said: “There are many variables in terms of location and this means you can’t trust any network that employees might be using or accessing. Authentication comes first, trust comes later.”

He said that mature organizations are using true multi-factor authentication. This involves looking at which network, device, action the user is taking. There are even advanced solutions measuring the rate in which the user is typing, allowing for in-depth analysis of more complex factors to ensure access is granted to the correct user.

Sander added that Snowflake has always been designed to fit into a ‘zero trust model’ and having authentication as its perimeter.

4. Cloud-native design

The shift to cloud has revealed that some applications are best suited to on-prem computing. So 2021 will see greater creation and use of applications that have been designed or redesigned specifically for use in the cloud, and increased demand for platforms on which to create them.

According to Vice President, Principal Analyst at Forrester, Dave Bartoletti, his market research company predicts the percentage of developers using containers and serverless functions to modernize old apps and build new ones before the pandemic will increase 50% by 2021.

Don Foster, Global Vice President of Sales Engineering at Commvault, data protection, and cloud back-up company said to The Next Web that the pandemic has pushed many organizations to outsource their computing, storage, and other infrastructure to cloud service providers and keep them there.

He said: “Expect IT organizations to make the rearchitecting of their applications and workloads into cloud-native formats one of their top digital transformation priorities for 2021.”

Looking ahead

The uptake of cloud will no doubt continue to grow given its utility and ability to accommodate spikes and lulls in usage, in the uncertain months ahead.

Organizations that may have been hasty in their choice of cloud product or providers are able to migrate to alternative solutions that better suit their needs. They will also need to bring their people with them as they introduce more cloud tools in the future, and shift to cloud-native design.

Businesses are realizing the implementations, whether cloud-first or hybrid, have many benefits. They will be investing in these solutions to iron out the kinks and ensure they are robust enough to carry them through 2021 and beyond, no matter what that future looks like. 

Join Snowflake’s on-demand webinar to hear more about the latest trends happening in data science, data engineering, data governance, and data sharing. 

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How the cloud has helped businesses survive COVID-19

In late March 2020, the 2,000 employees of Barnsley Council, a local authority in the Dearne Valley of Yorkshire, England had to switch to home working, virtually overnight. The local authority used the cloud to switch to a paperless and virtual expense management system, streamlining back-office finance processes and eliminating the need for staff to present expense claims in person. This transformation was enabled by the SAP Concur platform. So says Rob Harrison, MD of SAP Concur for the UK and Ireland.

So does the cloud have a silver lining from the fallout of Covid-19? Global spending on public cloud in 2020 was predicted to increase by 17% on the previous year, to $266.4B, according to Gartner, compared to a 16% increase the year before. A small increase but growth is growth. Cloud computing is seen as an essential feature of digital transformation for any business. And this has been borne out internationally by the marked increase in businesses utilizing cloud and expanding their penetration in cloud services during the push for digitization due to the pandemic.

Cloud usage is going up

The Flexera 2020 State of the Cloud Report found that of the respondents asked specifically about their cloud plans in relation to Covid-19, more than half said that their cloud usage will be higher than initially expected.

As people and the economy are being adversely affected by this virus, it has hastened the need for organizations to work remotely, safeguarding employee health, and ensuring they can scale up or down to cope with changing demands.

So it seems that many organizations have heeded the Churchillian maxim of not letting a crisis go to waste. 

Digital transformation is the process of using technology to make services and business processes more agile and efficient. Technically it is possible to digitally transform without cloud-based solutions, but for a multitude of reasons, most companies opt for them. 

“Digital transformation without the cloud is not impossible but it’s very limited in scope. Really, if you want to get the best advantage from your digital transformation, cloud has to be an important element of that,” says Donald Farmer, a strategic adviser to software vendors and enterprises on data and analytics.

Cloud’s near essential role as a pillar of digital transformation hasn’t changed since before the pandemic, it’s simply that the uptake has quickened. While the trend to move to cloud-based solutions has been increasing steadily over the past two to three years, Farmer who is the principal of TreeHive Strategy has seen an increased acceleration this year.

Cloud computing is the on-demand utilization of IT resources, including data storage, processing power, and applications on a pay as you go basis via the internet.

The increased pace of cloud adoption shows that what was once a “nice to have” as recently as the start of the year has now become a necessity, according to Ross Perez, Head of International Product Marketing at Data Cloud company Snowflake, which offers multiple data analytic workloads in the cloud. He said: “[The pandemic] has turned being on prem[ises] from something that was a discomfort to a pressing business-critical need [to divest from].”

Since its advent in 2006, when AWS launched the first public cloud computing platform, enterprise companies have been making the most of this innovation by moving their IT processes and data storage into the cloud. Alongside AWS, other big players in the cloud market include Microsoft Azure and Google. In the following years, services offered as cloud solutions have expanded to include collaboration and communication tools such as Google Docs and Zoom. 

The benefits of the cloud

While more established businesses have seen a need to undertake several small projects or a larger overarching journey to digitally transform the way they operate, some smaller companies and start-ups have originated with a digital-first model and have usually only ever operated on a cloud-first basis.

The alternative to cloud computing is the traditional on-prem solution, which includes hosting and maintaining private data centers and servers on a company’s own equipment on their premises. The inconvenient features of this are that the company will have to maintain the server which requires a level of expertise as well as the management of security, licensing and patching of software, and technical support. There is a high upfront cost, increased operational costs, and can take weeks to scale up storage capacity and processing power. It is estimated that data centers can cost between $200 and $1,000 per square foot

Some of the benefits companies cite for using cloud computing are faster and simpler technical deployment, lower costs and greater software functionality that can increase the number of users.

In Farmer’s view, it is worth taking a careful and considered approach to migrating to the cloud. He did not see a rush to the cloud once lockdown began. Many of the projects he saw being moved to cloud fairly quickly were difficult to work on on-prem when the team working on the project were geographically dispersed. “So it wasn’t as if people saw cloud as an answer to the problem. It was just the easiest and most effective way to continue with a project.”

To his clients, the principal drivers of moving to the cloud are agility and the ease and simplicity of managing complex systems. He added that reduced costs are a consequence of the above. “If you make things simpler and more straightforward then there should be a cost-benefit from that.”

Covid-19 disrupted everything

How is Cloud Compute and data storage being used to deal with Covid challenges?

Many companies experienced massive increases in demand for their products and services during lockdown, including streaming sites as people in the UK in April 2020 spent more than double the number of minutes per day watching video on demand as they did in an average month in 2019. 

Following viral videos of shoppers scrapping for toilet paper in early March, one New York-based seller of bidet attachments saw sales increase 20 fold over four days. Conversely, demand for luggage dropped like a stone to the point that suitcase retailer Antler went into administration in May although a buyer was found for the company in July.

Expert CIO and strategic adviser Tim Crawford said on Deloitte’s Architecting the Cloud podcast: “Going from zero to sixty is hard and so is going from sixty to zero.”

Anthony Schneider, a solutions engineer at Snowflake saw firsthand how volumes of data that different customers were handling spiked and dipped. He said: “You have key services companies that are seeing a huge influx of demand and they are able to scale and meet those new volumes of data and new volumes of customers that are coming in and using their key services.”

Conversely, Snowflake customers in the travel industry were able to scale back the number of cloud services they required as domestic and international travel restrictions were brought in.

He explained how this meant not having to pay for unutilized storage. “The company is paying minimal to nearly no money to us while they are going through these difficult times. It’s helping them on that digital journey so they are not wasting money while still being able to keep the lights on.

Collaboration and communication

Social distancing, brought in to slow the spread of the virus, meant that commuting to work became impossible for many and working from home became the norm. At the end of March, 36% of British workers were working remotely. Face to face meetings became impossible leading to a radically different way of working.

This didn’t pose a problem to digital-first companies. Perez of Snowflake said: “Snowflake was built to “survive and thrive in this world.” Everybody was, from the beginning, prepared to and could work from home. We had all the tools and resources in place to be in a work-from-home environment.”

Hence the exponential increase in the use of cloud-based collaboration and communication tools of which Zoom is the golden child. The number of daily meeting participants rocketed from 10 million to 300 million.

Cloud-based communication tools have helped organizations around the world to continue their operations. Women in Digital, a Bangladeshi social enterprise for female empowerment of 52 people on staff, was able to “shift” the teaching from in-person to online on Google Cloud, according to founder Nila Achia. The move was planned for next year, but Covid-19 reduced the time frame. She said: “After locking down we have faced so many problems because we were not prepared for it. When we started working from home we depended on the cloud because we needed to access our working files from different places”. 

Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, a mental health and learning disability care provider in the north of England, went live with an electronic patient record system during the pandemic and so utilized both cloud collaboration and data storage.

Bill Fawcett, CIO of the Foundation Trust said in a release: “We have been able to move our staff to working from home in just a few days, build real-time, Trust-wide dashboards of Covid-19 cases and redeploy staff while ensuring they rapidly have the access to information they would need for their new roles. In addition, we have reduced the revenue costs of the Trust’s core clinical records by 25% and integrated the system with four other key systems in the cloud.”

Using the cloud to thrive post-pandemic

Because the current business climate would have seemed entirely alien to us a mere 12 months ago, it may be prudent to heed the old financial disclosure statement ‘past performance may not be indicative of future results’.

Challenges may arise that we may not be able to even conceive at the moment. However, Patrick Johnson Head of Product at Patch Plants, a customer of Snowflake, can envision some difficulties ahead and so is looking to cloud tools for support with hiring and onboarding new team members and supporting existing team members with their mental health and wellbeing. To that end, Patch Plants is using Sanctus, an online mental health support platform for employees as well as continuing to use communication tools.

The benefits of using cloud tools, initially recognized by IT departments are now clear to the other parts of an organization, especially the executives who have the power to allocate the budget to give it the green light.

Schneider said: “The IT sides of business have been crying out to experiment with new technologies like Snowflake for a long time. The pandemic has helped the C-suite realize that those pains they have been hearing about are even more evident now. They are now facilitating those technical people who have always wanted to make that move.”

The consensus seems to be that the pandemic should have given companies that push to move into the cloud. Crawford said: “If there ever was a hurdle that stood in front of cloud, it probably got knocked down [by the pandemic]. When you move to the cloud one of the great things is [it’s] really kind of forcing [you] to think about how to run in a lights-out operation.”

For Tamara Slanova, Co-Founder of in-game item trading and monetization platform DMarket, the features of cloud that will allow her company to grow once we have handled Covid are the same ones that have brought it this far; efficiency and scalability. She said that utilizing cloud allowed her to use distributed ledger technology, machine learning algorithms, a self-built instant auction system, and other advanced solutions.

As the games industry was positively affected by lockdown with many new first time players, Slanova didn’t have to change her business model due to Covid. But the move to the cloud for many will have been pushed by the need for business continuity, however, said organizations should look at it as an opportunity to do business in a more innovative way.

Strategic adviser Farmer said: “The clients who have been most successful are the ones who have gone to cloud strategy for more business reasons, for more strategic reasons.”

He wouldn’t advise businesses to simply shift their existing systems into the cloud environment by taking existing operations and technologies and running them on someone else’s server in the cloud. Instead, he said: “You will be successful if you take advantage of new opportunities to do business in a different way on the cloud. You have to think about how the cloud changes what you do, enables you to do things differently, and take those opportunities.”

“The move to the cloud is a change in business strategy, not just a change in IT strategy,” he said resolutely.

Want to hear more about how customers are dealing with today’s business challenges? Register for Snowflake’s annual data Data Cloud Summit on November 18th here.

This article is brought to you by Snowflake.


India plans to earmark $4.6B to invest in EV battery makers

According to documents seen by Reuters, India’s government is putting aside $4.6 billion to incentivize companies that are looking to build battery manufacturing facilities.

The move comes as part of a national push to promote electric vehicles and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

As India isn’t a large oil producing country per capita — most of its fossil fuel is imported — switching to electric vehicles could save it a sizeable sum.

A proposal drafted by a federal think tank chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, estimates the nation could save as much as $40 billion over the next 10 years if EVs are used widely.

[Read: 5 things to know when you’re buying your first electric vehicle]

The think tank suggested that the $4.6 billion should be paid out over the next decade, and the best way to use the fund is to channel in into companies manufacturing EV batteries. The incentives would include cash and infrastructure bonuses of $122 million over the next financial year, which would increase annually until the money is used up.

“Currently, the battery energy storage industry is at a very nascent stage in India with investors being a little apprehensive to invest in a sunrise industry,” the proposal said.

The proposal is yet to be reviewed by Prime Minister Modi‘s cabinet, it’s expected that they’ll do so in the coming weeks.

Despite being the second most populated country in the world, India sells barely any electrically powered vehicles. According to the report, just 3,400 EVs were sold last year, that is compared to 1.7 million combustion vehicles.

If India is able to crack open the EV market, it could have a notable impact on global carbon emissions.

So you like mobility? Then join our online event, TNW2020, where you’ll hear how data, autonomy, and connectivity are fueling the future of mobility.

SHIFT is brought to you by Polestar. It’s time to accelerate the shift to sustainable mobility. That is why Polestar combines electric driving with cutting-edge design and thrilling performance. Find out how.

Published September 25, 2020 — 13:03 UTC