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Why people are the key to data-driven transformation

(Image credit: Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock)

Analytics and automation are absolutely key to successful digital transformation for businesses of all sizes. And with the global pandemic accelerating the need for robust transformation strategies, now is the time to act. The divide between those companies that are analytically mature and those that aren't will only become more pronounced in the near future, and it's up to you whether you get left behind.

One of the biggest challenges of digital transformation is in turning your workforce into highly productive data analytic workers. A focus on people is essential to success, as is infusing a culture of analytics across your organization. We recognize the importance of amplifying human intelligence to get the best from data analytics and the focus on human-centered design that makes data analytics accessible to everyone, something which is more important now than ever before.

Humans are incredibly intelligent beings and very analytic in their nature, so we're reliant on people to unlock the full potential of data. Just having the right technology in place is not enough on its own. While in prehistoric days humans fashioned tools out of sticks and rocks to solve the problems at hand, the problems we face are now far more complex as we are inundated with ever-increasing amounts of data. The good news is that we are constantly developing tools that can help us to tackle these increasingly complex problems.

Empowering your workforce with the right tools is vital. Using a platform with self-service tools that enable employees to automate analytic processes, enables them to eliminate the manual work that slows down problem solving. By using this approach, they can get the business insights they need in the most efficient way. This democratization ensures that anyone can go on the data analytics journey, whatever their level of expertise. The workforce is enabled to move beyond human decision making and empowered to use predictive analytics to harness the hidden power within thousands of disparate data sources and processes to inform these decisions. They are able to uncover actionable insights and advocate business process automation. The process automation approach enables the rapid and perpetual upskilling of your workforce at scale - an absolute must for successful digital transformation.

Advanced math is not a must

Contrary to popular belief, upskilling in the data and analytics world doesn't necessarily involve learning advanced maths, or computer programming. It's more about teaching people how to frame their questions as modelling problems so that they can solve problems using the data they have. Learning to look at these business problems through an analytic lens is the key here. Only then can employees learn how to automate the right analytic processes to get the best insights.

There may be some concern that this automation of processes could lead to jobs being replaced. However, as an employee, your job is far more likely to be lost if no action is taken. Instead, opportunities abound if you can become digitally savvy as companies are in dire need of these skills. If organizations don't embrace data-driven transformation and nurture the necessary analytics skills, they'll be far less competitive and in danger of going out of business. What automation does is help employees to harness their creativity and reach their full capacity for productivity. 

While some companies focus on building an elite data science team, others focus on pure democratization of analytics across the business. I find that the most successful companies do a combination of both. Data scientists frequently act as the teachers and guides for beginners, and when both camps are speaking the same language of data analytics, they can be more productive in ways they never could before.

One organization that stands out in this regard is Anthony Nolan, a charity dedicated to helping save the lives of people with blood cancer. Only a few years ago, harnessing capabilities like AI and predictive modelling felt out of reach to this charity. Typical of many organizations I speak with, Anthony Nolan had made the leap into data analytics. Unfortunately, this leap was reflected by a handful of data analysts stuck at their desks, not knowing the business very well and vice versa. The charity needed change, and it understood that change meant adopting a whole new culture of data – putting it in the hands of the many not the few. Lucky for us, Anthony Nolan approached Alteryx to help them with this transformation and set out a five-year data strategy that focused on governance, data management and insight development.

People are key

Today, the charity has an all-hands-on-deck data community centered around 25 people. This team is beginning to conduct rapid hypothesis testing on unexplored data flows, getting more employees skilled enough to supervise and explain AI effectively. The goal: to deliver ethical and innovative data-driven innovations to the transplant centers, stem cell donors and fundraisers who make our mission happen.

Opening up the world of analytics to the entire workforce is important in enabling any business to thrive in the data-driven world. And it's not just about giving workers the right technological tools. Fostering a culture of analytics also involves participating in the wider business community to find out how other companies have used analytics to solve similar problems. If your company culture doesn't embrace this human-centric approach then it won't matter what technology and data you have, it'll be hard to cross the digital divide and remain competitive.

While the economic landscape may be unpredictable in the coming months and years as we deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, one thing is clear: People are the key to data-driven digital transformation and should be at the core of your data and analytics strategy. Automation can help your workforce to reach their full potential as they learn to think in a more analytical way. The business insights gained from a human-centric approach to analytics helps companies to stay ahead of the competition. I believe that a successful digital transformation journey takes a combination of technology, data and people. Mix those three ingredients together and you can do amazing things.

Alan Jacobson, Chief Data & Analytics Officer, Alteryx