Data Transformation: from Defense to Offense

4 min readApr 5, 2022

I was recently inspired to watch Baylor win the NCAA 2019 women’s Basketball Championship — the game had all the drama you want from a final — and as I write this, I’m equally excited to watch Virginia versus Texas Tech in the men’s competition. The speed, athleticism and focus is truly inspirational — not only from the players on the court but the coaches and crowds.

What I love about basketball unlike other sports is the speed of play, up and down the court — players making a shot and then sprinting back to defend their respective parts of the court as the oppositions’ assault commences.

It was watching this swift and efficient machine going from defense to offense that made me think about analytics leadership, as they seek to make an impact in the organizations that they are part…

It’s half time, and we’re losing!

71.7% of firms report that they have yet to forge a data culture

New Vantage Partners Executive Survey — 2019

8% of senior executives reported that their organization engages in practices identified as key enablers for analytics at scale


77% of respondents who said that “business adoption” of big data and AI initiatives is a challenge for their organizations

Forbes — Getting serious about the human side of data

For good reason, Chief Data and Analytics Officers have been busy on the defence side — Data Ethics, Data Privacy and Cyber Security. But now the pressure is on, the final is here and we can only win this game through effective engagement with the business and establishing a long last culture with data.

According to New Vantage Partners Big Data and AI Executive Survey 2019;

Cultural challenges remain the biggest obstacle to business adoption. Companies report (77.1%) that business adoption of Big Data and AI initiatives remains a major challenge. Executives cite multiple factors with 95.0% stemming from cultural challenges (people and process), and only 5.0% relating to technology.

Call to action: Defence to Offence

There are 3 things that analytics leaders can start to do immediately to build an effective offence game plan with their business.

1. Inspire

It amazes me every time how data leaders try and use data to inspire our business teams. Don’t get me wrong — respect to the data! But what inspires teams is winning Championships — for our business! Our challenge therefore is to connect domain and analytics expertise inside our organisations.

Data leaders need to design a process that breaks down organizational silos and promotes transparency to business priorities. When done well this creates causality between the analytics capability and initiatives in the business and the overarching objectives of the company. Off-mission analytics projects must also be identified so that effort and scarce resources can be diverted to the areas where the most impact can be achieved.

If a ‘data leader’ can’t confidently answer the question “What’s the business mission?” such gaps will not support an effective data offence strategy.

If I walked into a business team meeting inside your organization today what would I see in terms of the way that decisions are made? Is it through the leaders opinion? Or would I observe some kind of group think towards a distant objective?

2. Engage

Data Culture is decision making culture

Here is where the CDO or CAO needs to engage with business teams — not just through one-off projects but at scale. Changing behaviour in teams is not a quick or short term fix. Teams need to align analytics to business value creation in their most important projects and collaborate more effectively and ask better questions to analytics. Their ability to effectively translate and share insights across their network to unlock their collective intelligence. This is a key part of an analytics offence strategy.

3. Sustain

Make change stick by through sustainable behavioural and ways of working changes. What is the forum — process? — that allows executives to have periodic check-ins with their team based on their business priorities and performance. Analytics needs to be front and centre of this process!

Building cross functional agile teams who can sprint against key projects can have a real and lasting impact to sustaining change. Early course corrections and reallocation of analytics resources to ensure that objectives will be met and value is achieved.


“We’re building a culture of accountability, trust and togetherness.”

- Brad Stevens, Head Coach, Boston Celtics

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