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Keys to Data Success: Lessons from “Fail Fast, Learn Faster”

ABSTRACT: Randy Bean’s new book, Fail Fast, Learn Faster, chronicles the Big Data revolution and offers pithy advice to data leaders distilled from consulting work.

Randy Bean has run the biggest little data & analytics consultancy for the past 20 years. As the head of NewVantage Partners, Randy is an influential figure in our industry who has the ear of data leaders at some of the biggest financial services and insurance firms in the world. He regularly contributes articles to Forbes, Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, and Sloan Management Review. He now has gathered his immense body of knowledge into a new book titled Fail Fast, Learn Faster.

Big Data Revolution. The book describes the upheaval caused by the advent of Big Data and its potential for transforming the way organizations do business and engage with customers and suppliers. Along the way, Bean discusses the evolving role of the chief data officer, the importance of data culture, the role of data ethics, and the impact of machine learning and artificial intelligence.  He illustrates his talking points with copious case studies from the world’s largest organizations, including AllState, AB Inbev, Cigna, and Mastercard. 

Besides contributing to leading business periodicals, Bean has helped shape the data & analytics field through his annual survey of chief data officers and other data leaders, now in its tenth year. Bean devotes a chapter to the survey’s latest results, which testify to both the growth of big data and advanced analytics as well as the continuing challenges organizations face in deploying these technologies. He writes,

Mainstream companies have made significant strides in their efforts to realize business results from their Big Data and AI investments….However, significant challenges remain. Anyone who has spent serious time in the field of data understands that becoming a data-driven organization does not happen overnight.” (Page 78.) 

Cultural Challenge. The biggest challenge, according to Bean, is not evaluating, selecting, and implementing voluminous new data and analytics technologies. Rather, it’s managing change and people. “The greatest challenge to becoming data-driven for most organizations is due to factors relating to business culture and the speed and processes by which companies undertake cultural change.” 

He then prescribes five steps to create a data-driven culture: 

  1. Secure executive commitment, not just lip service

  2. Expect to work hard and forget about magic bullets

  3. Establish realistic expectations, not unattainable goals

  4. Make steady progress, and overcome false starts

  5. Learn from the experience of others

Bean illustrates these tenets with examples of organizations that have transformed their data cultures, including AmFam, Travelers, Nationwide, and Northern Trust. 

Ten Commandments. At the end of the book, Bean distills lessons learned from hundreds of data leaders with whom he has met about how to create a data-driven organization. He calls these lessons “The Ten Commandments of Data-Driven Business Transformation.” They complement his prescriptions for creating a data-driven culture above and are worth listing here. Although many are common sense, it’s amazing how few organizations practice these core tenets. We can attest to that from our own consulting experiences! 

  1. Develop and execute a data strategy that mirrors your business strategy and vision. 

  2. Engender trust in your data to ensure business and customer buy-in, credibility, and momentum. 

  3. Start with high-value business use cases that drive data initiatives.

  4. Assume control over your data assets. 

  5. Encourage data discovery; do not penalize it. 

  6. Centralize data and decentralize analytics. 

  7. Distinguish between producers and consumers of data. 

  8. Recognize that data quality needs vary. 

  9. Relentlessly communicate the value of data up and down the organization. 

  10. Create a compelling career path for data leadership within your organization. 

Recommendation 

As a first-hand observer of one of the most far-reaching technology revolutions reshaping corporate culture and society, Bean is an astute chronicler of these changes and an apt counselor who offers concise prescriptions about how to harness data for business good. We recommend the book for business and data leaders who want an historical overview of the Big Data Revolution and a handy guide for succeeding in its wake. 

Wayne Eckerson

Wayne Eckerson is an internationally recognized thought leader in the business intelligence and analytics field. He is a sought-after consultant and noted speaker who thinks critically, writes clearly and presents...

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