How to create a
data culture

We are constantly producing data. Our mobile phones, cars, smart meters and kitchen appliances measure everything we do and produce data.

Even vending machines monitor the choices we make and are a valuable source of information for the brands that run them.  

It is estimated each person on earth generates an average of about 1.7 MB of data per second – a figure that is probably hard to envisage.

But what is clear is that data is the hallmark of the age we live in. Mathematician Clive Humby, the architect of the Tesco Clubcard scheme, famously described data as “the new oil.” Others have referred to it as a goldmine. It creates opportunities for businesses to better meet the needs of customers, gain competitive advantages, refine operations, and overcome or avoid problems.

However, all this can’t be achieved simply through the availability of data alone. Data needs to be interpreted, decoded, analysed and used to make informed decisions – rather than relying on gut feeling. And to achieve this, businesses must create a data culture.

This is, however, easier said than done. While some organisations have developed a healthy data culture and are reaping the benefits, many are struggling to make much sense of it. Many feel overwhelmed and are questioning the return on investment.

The result is that much of the data that organisations can access, lies used. According to a 2020 report by Qlik and Accenture, almost half of employees still rely on their gut for decisions. And only 37 per cent trusted decisions more when they were based on data.

How can this be improved? How can organisations become data-driven and create a data culture?

Data democracy

To begin with, organisations need to sort out data access barriers for their people. If you want your teams to make decisions on data, then the barriers preventing people from accessing it must be removed. Too many businesses fiercely control access to data and the gatekeepers ensure non-technical and non-IT workers must jump through hoops to be able to access it.

However, the best way to ensure that the organisation gets maximum value from its data is to ensure as many people as possible can access it. This is often referred to as ‘data democracy’. There are however, a few things to take care of to ensure that data democracy performs as desired.

In addition to addressing data security risks, organisations need to put their people through training to minimise the risk of non-technical employees wrongly interpreting data, resulting in bad decisions.

Another area of concern with democratising data relates to the fact that different teams may be working on the same data at the same time, and work duplication being more costly compared to the work being carried out by a focused analytical team. There are, however, innovations which make it easier for non-technical people to interpret data. One example is data visualisation software, for example, collects and analyses data and converts it into charts, tables, and figures for easy interpretation.

Ultimately, the more people who use data successfully, the greater the number of people who understand the benefits of using it to make decisions. Speaking on one of our recent podcasts, Pradipto Biswas, Sagentia Innovation’s new data and analytics director, said: “Data should be available and consumable by everyone in an organisation, rather than something the IT function or data function has tight control over. Data has to be democratised.”


There is almost as much buzz around storytelling as there is around data. Storytelling, which is a unique human skill, allows us to connect with other human beings, communicate our view of the world and inspire transformational change.

So, imagine the benefits of combining data with storytelling. Building stories, examples and case studies of where data has been used to achieve exceptional results and resolve difficult problems can inspire others to think about how it could work for them and improve their work. Stories can change hearts and minds and spark curiosity. And if you include data in those stories, then people will gradually feel less intimidated by it.

As the New York Times bestselling authors Dan and Chip Heath said: “Data are just summaries of thousands of stories – tell a few of those stories to help make the data meaningful.”


Creating a data culture also involves an investment in training and learning new skills. One of the stand-out statistics in the Accenture report was 74 per cent of employees feel “overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data.” And more than a third of those experiencing these feelings say they spend more than an hour procrastinating over data tasks. Many also try to find ways to avoid using data. 36 per cent said they would find an alternative way to complete the task, and 14 per cent would go further and skip the task altogether. In order to overcome this, and create a data culture, data & analytics skills need to improve at all levels of an organisation, so everyone can read, analyse and discuss data confidently.   

Ask questions

Not everyone is going to have the same levels of interest or enthusiasm about data, and it would be unrealistic for any business to expect all their workers to become statisticians. However, organisations need to get away from an environment where those who don’t work directly with data avoid it and either switch off and zone out when the data analyst starts talking.

Show, don’t tell

A good way to change this is to bring data into every conversation. Managers should be encouraged to constantly ask their teams about data – “What data do we have to support this decision?”; “What data will we need in future to show it has been the right decision?”; “How reliable is that data?”; “Is there any data that contradicts our decision?”; “Is the analysis correct”.

On the other hand, organisations should not be shy of culling the data that is not useful. You don’t want to create a culture of having data for the sake of it. Data has to be useful and serve a purpose.

Pradipto said: “I think the most important thing is that data is actually used. And that people don’t go back to the gut feel mode of running a business, but use the data to make decisions, validate what they are doing and create insight.”

Data cultures start at the top. A crucial step is for bosses to show they are using data to make decisions and are not reliant on gut instinct, experience, or guesswork. Leadership teams need to go beyond talking about the importance of data-driven decisions and lead through example.

Creating a data culture will not happen overnight. But with sources of data continually increasing, it has never been more vital for organisations to start the process and put the first building blocks in place. As the American academic Thomas H Davenport said: “Every company has big data in its future, and every company will eventually be in the data business.”

Keen to find out more? You can hear more about Pradipto and his data wizardry in our latest podcast.

Get in touch

By submitting your details you agree to us holding the personal data you've supplied for the purpose of processing your enquiry. For information about how we handle your data, please read our privacy policy