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It has often been said that culture is king — the competitive advantage that can elevate an organization from surviving to thriving. For organizations looking to migrate their data from legacy to modern systems, this classic phrase has never been more accurate.  

Undergoing a company-wide data transformation and developing an effective data strategy is often thought of as an information technology (IT) initiative. But what many leaders fail to realize is that to undergo a successful shift from on-prem to cloud solutions, the mindset must change from “this is an IT problem,” to “this is a broader business initiative that will provide a solution to the entire organization.” In essence, data transformation is a socio-technology for businesses.  

Once that shift occurs, leaders and talent across the enterprise will begin to realize the potential value of data, and how to leverage it to drive better outcomes. That is why a successful data migration boils down to culture — and the ways that culture plays an integral role in the process.  

Successful transformation begins with defining what data means to the organization

The cloud industry has undergone a fundamental transformation in the last five years. The major change is that — unlike several years ago — enterprises have begun to view data as not only an asset, but a source of growth that needs to be cultivated and grown. This cultural shift and changing view of data’s importance to an organization has made it a larger focus of attention across industries.  

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Organizations have started thinking of data as a product, and as such, they want to understand how to maximize it to gather the highest value insights and break down silos throughout different departments. To do this successfully, leaders from across the enterprise — finance, marketing, IT, and beyond — must come together to outline their vision for use of data and define the priorities that decisions will be based on.   

For example, if the goal is to drive better outcomes, that should be the focus of the new data strategy, and if legacy software does not meet that focus, leadership should make the decision to sunset it. Taking a democratized view to empower the business and its leaders to better understand data — and doing away with the outdated command and control approach — will make data readily available and allow leaders to access it collectively in a meaningful way.  

To ultimately drive an ecosystem of data products effectively within an organization, a culture that disseminates the authority of the usage of data to the domains that know the information most intimately is required. For example, ensuring that the marketing team of a hospitality company is empowered to own and make decisions regarding customer data, not a centralized body within IT. This does not mean that data governance is ignored, but rather a federated governance approach is adopted that provides domains with the flexibility to operate within a framework.  

Prioritizing strong executive sponsorship  

The most successful data initiatives share one important thing in common: Strong executive support. When members of the leadership team serve as advocates for this process, the culture mindset truly shifts to being seen as an initiative for the entire organization — beyond just a bullet point on a presentation.  

Executive sponsorship can ensure that data transformation is a strong, established, and collaborative initiative across the business, building new organizational momentum in addition to unveiling a new operational model. To unlock the value of data, you have to empower the business by giving them the power to make decisions, build relationship capital to overcome roadblocks and support collaborative leads who row the transformation boat in a common direction. 

One way to show support from leadership is to establish a centralized group of C-Suite decision makers — such as the Chief Data Officer — to push accountability and ownership of data, make tough decisions, and enforce change. This will ensure the visibility and applicability of data so that business leaders do not need to spend days or weeks trying to gather useful insights.  

Celebrating the ROI across the board 

While the return on investment (ROI) from shifting to modern systems is somewhat dependent on the amount of data and industry, several benefits are clear. These include a better holistic understanding of data, more productive and efficient management of data, minimized security risk, increased organizational collaboration, and enhanced maturity of talent to manage data.  

These benefits are not exclusive to finance, or to marketing, but are a domino effect that runs throughout the enterprise. The productivity savings are immediate, as taking disparate data and changing the operating model to a centralized data warehouse is instantly more efficient. Similarly, the hardware and software impact is massive, with increased elasticity and diminished need for low-value maintenance activities.  

With updated operating and service delivery models, businesses can serve customers in a new way. For example, consider an organization undergoing a data transformation as a result of an acquisition. This organization wanted to improve customer promotions and advertisements but had existing silos that needed to be broken down. Using data engineering, a Capgemini team combined legacy, on-prem data from both organizations with modern cloud data into a new data lakehouse. Once executed, there was a better representation of customers and the organization increased their customer upgrades by 15%, all because of the access to holistic data.  

The concept of a thriving data culture is new, but still crucial for today’s organizations. Along with removing silos, there should be a realization that data transformation is a fundamental shift in culture — with potential to unlock massive benefits.  

Viewing data as an integral business asset that should be cultivated and maximized to drive better outcomes both internally and for the customer will make a significant difference in whether or not the transformation succeeds.  

Organizations that fail will not fail because of technology, but because of their inability to inspire change in the business culture. 

Steven Karan is VP of insights and data at Capgemini Canada.

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