Understanding the symbiotic link between data and decision making

Understanding the symbiotic link between data and decision making

It’s not just data that helps makes decisions, leaders do too.

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While we all know that data is important in decision making, few leaders in APAC organisations are walking the talk. Decision making is often an integral part of a leader’s role in the workplace. What many do not realise is that using intuition or past experience may not be effective. A decision made, for example in forecasting, that is not sound or objective can have significant repercussions when it goes wrong.

iTNews Asia chats with JY Pook, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific & Japan, Tableau and Tableau’s partner Donnel Briley, Social Psychologist and Professor of Marketing at the University of Sydney, to further uncover the myths and truths behind data and decision making, as well as understand the need for adaptability and the importance of driving trust among employees.

iTNews Asia: Has the use of data now become more important in how decisions are made in solving post-pandemic challenges i.e. in how companies are adapting their workforce and undergoing business transformation?

JY: A recent YouGov survey we did, unsurprisingly, found that the pandemic has changed business conversations across the region. Around a third of business leaders (36%) actually reported a positive change and regional businesses that increased data use were more than twice as likely to report positive changes (57%), compared to those who had not.

In Singapore, 83% of leaders found the use of data created an environment conducive to listening (83%), and built trust (78%). Sixty-four percent of local leaders in Australia agreed that data usage during the pandemic removed business hierarchies and made workplace conversations more accessible.

Even though business leaders recognise the value of data, they don’t necessarily walk the talk, with only 16% using analytics on a daily basis.

This has significant implications on their organisation, as there is a strong relationship between leaders who personally use analytics and overall business adoption. Leaders who use data and analytics daily saw increased overall adoption across their business.

Leaders need to lead the charge - until employees see executives making decisions with data, we can’t expect the wider business to do the same and reap the benefits of data. It’s not just data that makes decisions, leaders do too.

Leaders need to reassess their overall talent strategy - how they prioritise data skills as part of their hiring requirements and talent management process, and what they are doing to train current employees and ensure that everyone is speaking the same language of data.

-JY Pook, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific & Japan, Tableau

iTNews Asia: Why have businesses increased their data use during the pandemic? What kinds of data are they interacting with, and how can they leverage data to inform decisions? What are some of the tangible benefits from using data?

JY: The pandemic has made business leaders quickly realise that gut-feel and leaning on experience has little place in decision making. With no precedent to rely on, they are turning to data because it delivers objectivity and clarity to allow for confident, fact-based decision-making in today’s climate of uncertainty.

We are seeing business leaders today increasingly lean on data across all aspects of the business. This could range from managing stock levels based on customer activity and needs, introducing new products and services according to developing market trends, or even measuring employee performance on set metrics.

Take CARRO, Southeast Asia’s largest AI-driven car marketplace as an example. Despite challenges faced during the pandemic, CARRO raised an additional $360 million earlier this year to become the region’s latest unicorn.

How? Their leaders recognised the importance of building trust among employees with data - they put data in the centre of all their conversations, so that any issues could be raised and remediated based on facts instead of gut feel. In doing so, the team grew in confidence and trust in their management, and this had a knock-on effect on employee welfare and productivity.

Data also proved central for Phoon Huat, one of Singapore’s leading food suppliers, as they transformed their operations in line with needs of the day. They expanded their brick-and-mortar presence online and launched an omnichannel customer loyalty programme to better serve their customers. By tapping on data, they are better equipped to engage with their customers on a more personalised level than ever before.

Image courtesy of Carro
Carro put data in the centre of all their conversations

iTNews Asia: What does it mean to be data literate? How can organisations empower their team to understand and work with data?

JY: As we enter an era of analytics ubiquity, business leaders need to empower everyone with data to make data-driven decisions. Only then will people become more confident users and seekers of data, and leverage insights to inform everyday decisions. To do so, leaders need to reassess their overall talent strategy - how they prioritise data skills as part of their hiring requirements and talent management process, and what they are doing to train current employees and ensure that everyone is speaking the same language of data.

For instance, as part of M1’s commitment to become a digital-first telco, they helped 1,500 employees expand their skills by delivering new training programmes and establishing new capabilities in data proficiency and coding. Pan-Asian retailer DFI Retail Group was also deliberate to invest - in both technology and upskilling efforts - to empower employees to gain confidence working with data. They put in place automated data dashboards that allowed everyone to access the same insights at any time, and introduced enablement activities like fortnightly workshops to onboard new users. With this, the team was able to see strong momentum and more users adding data literacy to their skillsets.

Building an internal community is also a critical component to encourage people to build that passion for learning. At Bank Mandiri, they have created internal User Groups, where employees come together during monthly sessions to learn from data coaches and share best practices with one another.  Now, more than 570 employees are equipped with the data skills to not only create visualisation reports, but also conduct robust analysis to inform decisions.

Above all, this needs to be supported by a strong data culture where everyone makes decisions and changes based on data. Data use becomes a key performance indicator and priority for everyone regardless of role or rank.

It is not surprising for a region as diverse as Asia Pacific to have stark differences in how business leaders have adapted during this time. COVID-19 has irrevocably subverted traditional expectations of work, and we have seen diversity in adaptability.

-Donnel Briley, Social Psychologist and Professor of Marketing at the University of Sydney

iTNews Asia: Why might there be regional differences in business conversations during this time? Do cultural factors come into play in how an organisation in a specific country uses data?

Professor Briley: It is not surprising for a region as diverse as Asia Pacific to have stark differences in how business leaders have adapted during this time. COVID-19 has irrevocably subverted traditional expectations of work, and we have seen diversity in adaptability - particularly across Singapore, Australia and Japan. 

Singaporean leaders have met these workplace changes with real zeal. They responded to new challenges quickly, flattened traditional employee hierarchies, while also tapping on data to create a foundation of intelligence to drive important business discussions.

At the same time, Australia’s egalitarian business approach helped local leaders transition to new working environments with ease. They were more likely to help offset concerns about business changes by relying on data to inform business discussions. Additionally, they opened up discussions to more people on the ground, which increased opportunities for inclusivity and leveled hierarchies across the board.  

It is likely that leaders in Japan felt the most significant shock to their system. In Japan, hierarchy and deference to authority are deeply woven into the national psyche, and older business leaders were more likely to feel disconnected than their younger counterparts during this time of remote work. They struggled the most, and were the only country in the region that viewed the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on workplace discussions more negatively.

That being said, younger executives increasingly recognise data as a solution to address the challenges of remote work - potentially signalling a shift from command-and-control management styles to a more facilitative, collaborative approach.

To reach the editorial team on your feedback, story ideas and pitches, contact them here.
© iTnews Asia
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