• Mark Meuldijk, Partner |
  • Evgenia Rüdisüli, Director |

In an era being shaped by global economic, political and technological challenges CEOs must confront many uncertainties as they map the future of their business. One trend is clear however – the growing importance of data in shaping critical business decisions.

At present many CEOs understand in principle the value and potential that data offers yet seem reticent to fully trust (and act on) what the data tells them. KPMG International's recent Guardians of Trust study highlighted the extent of this conflict – just 35 percent of executives surveyed said they had a high level of trust in their own organization's use of data analytics while 25 percent admitted they either have limited levels of trust in, or actively distrust, the data they receive. It is probably not a surprise, then, that in our CEO Survey, more than half of respondents are concerned about their ability to integrate AI into their existing automation processes, and almost a third admitted they are not ready to adopt AI into the business.

This sense of suspicion risks hurting good decision-making. How then can CEOs develop the type of data-driven strategy that will inspire the trust of their colleagues, customers and, indeed, themselves? We believe these five leadership lessons can help.

1. Data-oriented business

Too often companies obsess about technology without weighing up the business case for embracing it. CEOs and other executives often appear confused by the concept of how a data-driven strategy can transform a business. To overcome that confusion they should ask this key question – how can we improve business with data? Once that is determined executives can set business-relevant key performance indicators (KPIs). For example, is the data strategy helping growth? Reducing costs? Mitigating risks? This way, executives can demystify data by making it no different from the normal problem-solving strategies that they need to apply.

2. Create a data-led culture

Many times, CEOs approach data purely from a business strategy point of view but it is impossible to implement a successful strategy if company culture has not already embraced the idea of being data-driven. That type of culture needs to be increasingly collaborative and interactive. And it has to be company-wide so it can break down traditional silos that encourage the hoarding, rather than free flow, of data. To help nurture this culture companies need to think big but start small. In doing so they can convince all the organization how data will help their work.

3. Have confidence in using data insight to create value

Ultimate goal can be to build "Artificial Intelligence in Control" framework of checks and balances to ensure trust in the data and algorithms, is crucial. That involves making sure algorithms are not relying on biased information, that diligent quality control measures are in place and the algorithm's output is fair and explainable. This can only happen after successful implementation of the previous steps. In this way CEOs can be comfortable basing actions and decisions on data insights even if they do not understand how an algorithm works because they trust the quality of those models.

4. Know what you do well and when to collaborate

Getting yourself inspired by outside-in perspectives, understanding the new technology capabilities and building technology capability is also critical to successfully recognize and apply technology change. For many, the path to success will not involve going it alone but instead forming partnerships with those companies that are leading in data-driven technology and can complement their offering. As data reshapes every industry sector no company (regardless of their current size and authority) can afford to go it alone. Neither is this a one-time decision. CEOs will want to review their current value chain on an ongoing basis to evaluate how data analytics, intelligent automation and AI can help them stay relevant and competitive.

5. Time for CEOs to lead from the front

Even when CEOs do grasp the importance of integrating a data culture throughout the organization they sometimes do not think they have the authority in the subject to convince others. Because they lack expertise they look to delegate – putting responsibility for building a data-driven culture in the hands of other executives. Yet in distancing themselves they may be sending a message to other parts of the business that it is not their concern either. Even today, many organizations still struggle to build a successful data-driven operation not because of technical reasons but because of internal politics. C-level vision and commitment are considered crucial success factors.

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