The link between a robust, connected company culture and business success is no secret – 92% of business leaders say that improving company culture would increase company value. Its worth has become even more widely recognised since the move to a remote or hybrid work environment, with more than a third of South African business leaders admitting to battling with creating a strong and unified team culture.
Culture is the glue that holds companies together. It requires several key ingredients to be successful: clearly defined and communicated core values, solid and supportive leadership, the spirit of collaboration and the tools that enable this connection even remotely.
Now there is another critical ingredient that needs to be added into the mix: data. Data has, for the last few years, been called the new oil. “This is because it has the potential to act as a significant differentiator for organisations that have the expertise and resources to gather valuable insights that business leaders can use to make decisions that drive the business forward,” says Johannes Kanis, Cloud and Enterprise Business Group lead at Microsoft South Africa.
The ability to unlock the business value of data is exactly why the 2020 Harambee Mapping of Digital and ICT Roles and Demand for South Africa Survey found that data analysts and data scientists are the top two most critical skills that businesses will require in the next five years.
There are several examples of industries in South Africa that have recognised the critical nature of these skills and used them to respond to industry and economic pressures and to drive business growth.
Media, telecommunications, insurance, and tourism and hospitality, in particular, have used data-driven insights to navigate rapid disruption, reimagine new and better ways of working, and leverage cloud and data services at scale to reduce costs, streamline and optimise operations, and improve the customer and employee experience.
Data as the golden thread of culture
For these businesses, the ability to harness data’s power to drive innovation and turn volume into value starts with their company culture. “Businesses need a culture that focuses on data management and analytics. Business leaders need to actively build a company culture that makes data insights the golden thread running through business strategy and informing business decisions,” says Kanis.
And companies that embed data management and analytics into the heart of their culture have one feature in common: a clear, centralised data strategy that integrates a deep understanding of data needs across the business and capabilities that enable the seamless and secure collection, classification, handling, storage and processing of data.
This understanding and data handling capability needs to be supported by quality data to unlock its value – and the key lies in the combination of people, process and technology.
“Data scientists, equipped with the latest solutions and streamlined processes, are able to collect the right data at the right time, and gather valuable insights that business leaders can use to make decisions that drive the business forward,” Kanis says.
Increasingly, these capabilities are supported by the use of solutions powered by the cloud and big data analytics and backed up by AI and machine learning as their building blocks. Cloud scale solutions like Azure Synapse Analytics, which Microsoft has now made generally available, bring together data integration, enterprise data warehousing and big data into a single service.
This helps bring key data assets into one place, making it simpler, more seamless and secure for data engineers, data scientists and business analysts to collect, process and gain continuous, real-time insights that can be used as the bedrock upon which essential business decisions are made.
“Currently, only 20% of business leaders believe they have a mature data management strategy – but with a dedicated investment in the people, processes and technology needed to harness data, we will begin to see more businesses in South Africa enjoy the benefits of a data-centric culture,” says Kanis.
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