Data Culture is King

September 14, 2021

Brian Scott

Brian Scott, president and founder of ClearTone Consulting LLC, provides executive technology consulting services based on 35 years of technology expertise and 20 years of exhibitions and events industry experience.

Humans love to measure things and put names to them. We create measurements for individuals such as IQ and EQ as well as organizational maturities of all kinds. So, it only makes sense to add one more to this ever-growing list of quantification: data maturity. An event organization’s data maturity is the level of the staff’s understanding, adoption and utilization of available data to guide decision making, ideation, product development and procedural improvements. It may just be one of the single most important measures you can assess.

In today’s dynamic exhibitions and events industry, the data maturity of any event organization is indicative of how well they can take advantage of the opportunities afforded by digital transformation. Advanced organizations are fortunate to have high-functioning data teams ready to apply their sharply refined data science skills to any specific task, but these teams are typically very small and always overloaded with far more work than they could hope to complete. Instead of relying solely on a talented, yet siloed team, the most mature organizations have invested in the strategic initiative of educating all employees to become part of a data culture. An organization whose overall data maturity is higher will always win over an organization relying on a small team to do it all.

Data-centric education is not about training data analysts to become better at their jobs, as they are typically highly motivated, skilled and not the resources that need the education. It’s about teaching all employees how to access and use the power of data in ways that provide a strategic advantage for the company. It’s about teaching employees how to think “data first” and become habitualized in the desire to leverage its many benefits. The result: a mature data culture across every part of an event organization, from IT to marketing, sales, finance and product development.

Before any organization can dive into development of a data culture strategy, it’s helpful to first understand where their organization lies upon the maturity continuum. They should conduct an introspective data maturity assessment which is a systematic and structured process for evaluating the state of data culture throughout an organization. It includes:

  • Evaluating how well all departments within the company harnesses, processes and analyzes available data
  • Assessing current IT capabilities to support new or emerging technologies, properly collecting and storing data, and most importantly, making data easily available for consumption by other groups
  • Examining the degree of shared organizational understanding about why data maturity is needed and the value that can be realized by utilizing data assets

Although the specific category names may vary, most data maturity assessments produce results that place an organization, or specific departments within an organization, in one of the following categories: Data Aware, Data Proficient, Data Savvy and Data Driven. 

Data Aware teams are typically focused on compiling reports from different systems with the goal of standardizing reporting. There may be one or multiple business intelligence (BI) systems, data sources and databases, and there’s typically a lack of data and app integration. These teams are very flat report focused.

Data Proficient teams have begun to track team or product KPIs and are now ready to pilot data initiatives, but they often lack the know-how to manipulate or use unstructured data or integrate multiple data sources effectively. Awareness of data quality becomes an issue of concern for these teams.

Data Savvy teams use data to make critical business decisions for key initiatives. These teams typically have strong IT partnerships, and executive sponsorship is put in place to quickly break down both organizational and data silos. For Data Savvy groups to exist, IT must keep up by implementing new technologies that integrate all data sources and applications to provision and store data effectively and serve up data on demand for its internal consumers.

Data-Driven teams use data to make strategic decisions and measure the success of those decisions as well. They come to every challenge and every initiative from a data-first perspective. What data do we currently have? What data should we be generating? How will we use the data once available? What are the data capture and reporting KPIs? These people have skills in various BI platforms and are comfortable mining available data for insights.

There's no doubt that committing to developing a data mature culture is a long-term vision, and it can't be accomplished easily with short-term leadership. Not unlike parenting well-balanced and well-prepared children, it takes the focused commitment of support and education in little bits all along the way to reach the ultimate end state. Exactly how to go about it will be specific to each organization, but a good place to start is by making educational resources available and building specific goals or expectations into all employee’s performance objectives. Building a data culture is not about simply adding some new technology from time to time. It’s an investment in our people first, as they will drive the need for technologies as they’re educated to the immense value awaiting discovery within the data.


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