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Lessons from the Sentient Enterprise: Business data meets business culture

Lessons from the Sentient Enterprise: Business data meets business culture

“Lessons from the Sentient Enterprise” is a series of posts timed around the publication of The Sentient Enterprise, a new book on big data analytics by Oliver Ratzesberger and Mohan Sawhney. Each post in the series highlights a major theme covered in book and at executive workshops being held in conjunction with its upcoming release by Wiley Publishers.

Judging by the number of publisher meetings and galley review sessions lately, Mohan Sawhney and I won’t have to wait much longer for our new book, The Sentient Enterprise, to hit the streets. Some of my previous blogs and other online resources describe the Sentient Enterprise concept that Mohan, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, and I developed for organizations to mature and scale their analytics. But now the book will take things to an entirely new level!

The arrival of this full-length publication – chock full of executive interviews, use cases and research around our five stage “capability maturity model” – will hopefully make the concept even more useful for the many technology executives and business users struggling to get their organizations more agile and proactive with data. As much as The Sentient Enterprise is about data and technology tools, however, it’s also about the broader cultural shift that must happen in order to build a truly data-driven workforce.

Don’t Let “Special People Become Ordinary”

Our book references famed management consultant Peter Drucker’s maxim that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and shows how the problem reaches buffet proportions when it comes to analytics – where new forms of data collide head on with old ways of thinking on a daily basis. Culture has also been playing an outsized role in the slew of questions from business executives in a series of Sentient Enterprise “think tank” workshops Mohan and I are hosting in the run-up to the book’s publication.

“When will my team stop obsessing about requirements and learn to experiment?” “How can we start trusting the data instead of just our gut?” “What’s the best way to get leadership on board?” And so the questions went at a recent forum. One query, however, was particularly jarring: “How can I attract cutting edge talent when we’re stuck in an organizational culture that is anything but?”

To answer that last question, we referenced for our audience not just the many pages devoted in our book to workforce development, but also a recent Harvard Business Review article we’d seen called “The Talent Curse.” The piece details how “special people become ordinary” through overly risk-averse and failure-phobic corporate cultures. Since I believe analytics actually requires that we embrace a certain amount of failure as part of the process, this problem seems especially relevant for our field.

In fact, the HBR article even zeroed in on the plight of a data scientist named Laura, whose analytic curiosity and top AI expertise is stifled in a new job at a company where everyone is taught to be “embarrassed by failure.” As we watch Laura struggle through a culture relentlessly focused on rock star talent and flawless performance that leaves no room for risk-taking, experimentation and learning, we see her abandon a “sense of ownership and spontaneity” and, ultimately, her job.

“Change Management on Steroids”

What’s the takeaway from all this? That even new technologies and top talent can lie fallow in organizations that don’t build – or change – their cultures to suit the agile and improvisational nature of high-performing analytics.

Even within technology circles, change management around analytics can be tough. Many IT departments still cling to requirements-driven waterfall methodologies instead of more agile approaches like DevOps and frameworks such as Scrum. They find it hard to prioritize working prototypes over excessive documentation, cross-team collaboration over silos and mid-stream adjustments over blind allegiance to a pre-conceived plan.

As challenging as that may be, when you expand the culture shift to the whole organization, it amounts to what I call “change management on steroids” – or what Siemens Mobility Vice President of Data Services Gerhard Kress describes as “change management on all sides” in the pages of The Sentient Enterprise. “In our case, we have to take engineers – who’ve spent years designing and creating a standing product – with us on the journey to understand how data helps us all become even better,” Gerhard told us in an interview that appears the book.

The successful approach Gerhard and others shared with us in The Sentient Enterprise involves choosing the right internal partners for pilot projects to demonstrate value and then socializing the success stories throughout the organization to spur broader adoption. A. Charles Thomas, the former CDO of Wells Fargo who now serves in the same role at General Motors, even developed a company-wide framework at Wells Fargo for analytic “insight governance” – something I referenced in a previous blog and which is discussed more fully in the book.

As The Sentient Enterprise makes clear, taking on the challenge of building a data-driven culture is ultimately worth the investment many times over. That’s because, while it may seem like an uphill battle at first, the payoff comes when you reach those new heights – where data becomes not just an asset, but a way of life that turns a whole company into a high-performance organization.

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Portrait of Oliver Ratzesberger

Oliver Ratzesberger

Mr. Ratzesberger has a proven track record in executive management, as well as 20+ years of experience in analytics, large data processing and software engineering.

Oliver’s journey started with Teradata as a customer, driving innovation on its scalable technology base. His vision of how the technology could be applied to solve complex business problems led to him joining the company. At Teradata, he has been the architect of the strategy and roadmap, aimed at transformation. Under Oliver’s leadership, the company has challenged itself to become a cloud enabled, subscription business with a new flagship product. Teradata’s integrated analytical platform is the fastest growing product in its history, achieving record adoption.

During Oliver’s tenure at Teradata he has held the roles of Chief Operating Officer and Chief Product Officer, overseeing various business units, including go-to-market, product, services and marketing. Prior to Teradata, Oliver worked for both Fortune 500 and early-stage companies, holding positions of increasing responsibility in technology and software development, including leading the expansion of analytics during the early days of eBay.

A pragmatic visionary, Oliver frequently speaks and writes about leveraging data and analytics to improve business outcomes. His book with co-author Professor Mohanbir Sawhney, “The Sentient Enterprise: The Evolution of Decision Making,” was published in 2017 and was named to the Wall Street Journal Best Seller List. Oliver’s vision of the Sentient Enterprise is recognized by customers, analysts and partners as a leading model for bringing agility and analytic power to enterprises operating in a digital world.

Oliver is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program and earned his engineering degree in Electronics and Telecommunications from HTL Steyr in Austria.

He lives in San Diego with his wife and two daughters. View all posts by Oliver Ratzesberger

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