Data analytics' big problem: 'The tools are nice, but how do you get people to use them?'

Romania's OMV Petrom is using soft power to get employees to use its new data-analytics tools.
Written by Lindsay Clark, Contributor

Late last month in Denver, data-warehousing giant Teradata launched its analytics cloud architecture and a raft of new tools designed to help organizations get more value from their data. But for some companies, technology is not the problem.

"All these tools are very nice, of course, but people need to use them," says Jaco Fok, chief of innovation and digitization at OMV Petrom, a Romanian energy company with revenues of around €4.7bn ($5.2bn).

"We find that getting people to use the tools is actually 70% of the effort."

He is not alone. According to the Harvard Business Review, 72% of the 64 C-level executives it spoke to say they have yet to forge a data culture, despite investment in big-data technologies.

SEE: Sensor'd enterprise: IoT, ML, and big data (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The former national oil company of Romania, OMV Petrom was privatized about 15 years ago and is now part of Austria's OMV Group.

With operations in eastern Europe and the middle east, in 2017 it began a digital transformation program with an innovation fund that Fok can use to build proof-of-concepts for the application of technologies capable of "changing people's mindset" in their attitude to digitization.

"I'm on a mission to create a digital democracy. That means moving the tools and the capabilities skillsets into the hands of individuals with data problems. At a department level, we're still juggling with Excel or on paper. That needs to change," he told Teradata's Universe conference.

First, OMV Petrom founded a 'digital academy', which, in partnership with Microsoft and LinkedIn, offers around 250 courses designed to help disseminate fundamental IT user skills throughout the organization.

But a digitization program also requires support from the top of the organization to succeed, he says.

"Everybody says if your CTO is not driving the initiative, then you know your whole change program is totally rubbish, and to some extent that is true."

Fok's answer was to create simple scorecards for each board member, updating them on the progress of the various digitization programs in their remit.

Although they are an old-style management tool, they provide a quick way of making progress on digitization that seems tangible to the most influential people in the organization. Crucially, the scorecards were introduced a year after projects began.

"You can say, 'This project of yours is actually quite successful'. That makes board members feel good because if they have to say something about digitization, they have the security of some success," he says.

Another technique Fok has employed to influence the board is the creation of an 'innovation council' made up of individuals who report to the board – two for each board member.

"Everyone on the board has a favorite person who they call when they get a question about a proposal," he says.

"So, whenever I bring an idea to the board, the people board members call are already part of the design process. They will say: 'Yeah, this is a great idea'. Culture is something that can be manufactured."

A management layer down, Fok says he developed a 'tribe'; a group of around 30 hand-picked individuals who are outgoing and interested in digitization.

He gave them an initial agenda and organized the first three meetings. After that, he let them manage themselves with access to a small budget to pay for events and speakers.

"Sometimes you want to do things that are kind of naughty. You're not sure if they're allowed, so you try them. You can just do it and then, if you need to, say sorry afterwards," Fok says.

"Now they're responsible for their own activities and have nothing to do with me. Not that I want to completely step away from accountability, but it's a handy change tool in this sack of solutions."

SEE: Where do the tech giants send your data?

As well as using soft power to influence change, Fok has helped introduce data-visualization tools based on the Teradata platform as part of a pilot program.

Designed to support refinery maintenance, the dashboards avoid the problem of managers "bringing their own data" to meetings and spending most of their time arguing about which data is more accurate.

"All those meetings have become highly efficient since we eliminated the old reports," Fok says. "It took three months for people to really embrace it, but a refinery manager is reporting fantastic results as the team adjusts to the changing language."

Despite the challenges embedding a culture for data-driven decision making, companies in the HBR survey say they are still investing heavily in big data and analytics. OMV Petrom provides some valuable lessons for those hoping to change hearts and minds.

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