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Becoming more data centric is critical for success of every competitive business. Derk Swider, VP, Group Strategy, Foresight and Analytics at E.ON illustrated his approach to fostering a data-driven culture in this case study.

Below you will find insights into:

  • How to gain top management trust
  • Supporting organisations on their journey towards a data-driven culture
  • How to leverage training and storytelling to get corporate buy-in

Centralised approach to driving value from data

One of the largest investor-owned electric utility service providers, E.ON SE is a European electric utility company based in Essen, Germany. Currently undergoing a structural transition and expanding into areas of upstream and power generation, power an gas distribution, and supply business, the company counts 78,948 employees and 53m customers. 

Whilst taking pride in its data-centricity, Derk points out that his work mostly takes place within the company’s corporate headquarters. 

In D words, the company is currently leveraging data to become “future-ready”. Through a 360-degree approach to data leveraging both external view and internal network, the strategy aims at creating the insight necessary to drive impact while also keeping an eye on challenges and opportunities down the road. 

  

Leveraging the right data to drive insight

Derk also advocates for a smart approach to data. He points out that you should refrain from endless capture and rather focus on leveraging existing data to derive insight. This insight can then be translated into actionable advice for the supervisor board. 

Your primary objective is to get the board’s buy-in to fuel business strategy. Derk notes that this might be a reverse approach to the one trending in recent years, in which the data strategy would often focus on the “nitty-gritty” and technical side of things, sometimes losing sight of the end goal: proving value.

Bringing people together to drive change with data

Same as for many businesses, the pandemic provided challenges and opportunities – Derk and his team were looking into how these can be leveraged. 

He emphasises the importance of developing and delivering ad hoc “future picture workshops” to illustrate the power of data and how it can actually help not only mitigate risk but also grow in the near future. He then proceeds to explain the behind-the-scenes of project development.

The first step saw the team getting together to brainstorm the adequate methodology and approach specifically tailored to the audience. The steps leading to the workshops’ creation looked as follows:

  1. Shortlisting the main trends out of a long list of 127 developments
  2. Trend assessment via online surveys
  3. Checking  for stability, relevance, and impact
  4. Identifying 8-10 focus points
  5. Selecting 4 core topics out of the previous ones
  6. Getting 4 topics ready to be discussed with the board via online surveys with top-execs
  7. Shortlisting to 3 core topics to centre the discussion around

At this point, the company had gathered enough insight to effectively run two workshops: Future Picture and Future Picture Development. These workshops allowed to further explore the three core topics selected earlier and agree on how they can be transitioned into strategic initiatives.

Data storytelling to the board

Derk states that the power of these workshops lied in taking the board onto a journey. The core steps of the journey looked as follows:

  1. The attention first gathered around analysis and focus topic, rural areas (April/May)
  2. It then moved onto the next phase: the top executive workshops (June)
  3. The concept was then presented at the board meeting. The challenge here was to convince influential people of the strategy’s value in a very short time (July)
  4. 200 potential projects were presented to the press and the capital market (November)

Presentation summary and key action-plan points

To conclude, Derk summarised his journey towards obtaining top-management support in four steps: 

  1. Manage the abundance of information: this can be achieved by outsourcing as much as the information gathering and data collection activities as possible
  2. Create privileged, future-looking insights: meaning diving deep into the analysis of the data and avoiding fear of the number crunching
  3. Engage decision-makers on a Board level: by taking the decision-makers on an exciting journey that tells a profound, crisp and compelling story.
  4. Impact the future direction of your organisation: by turning your insight into actionable advice for actions that can be taken today.

At the end of the presentation, Derk took some time for a Q&A.

Derk on what steps to take when the board circles back and becomes part of the strategic plan:

It is necessary to continue working with the organisation with the aim of exchanging info and allowing them to actively engage whilst also providing them with the necessary support and guidance. The key is to show the board this is, in fact, THEIR journey.

On managing the shift from current-looking insight to future-looking insight:

This can be achieved by onboarding the CEO or other top-management figure and gaining their trust. It will also help to clarify the immediate potential while emphasising long-term results depend on the course of action taken today. In other terms, by instilling a sense of urgency through translation.

On crafting the most effective elevator pitch:

To maximise the possibility for success, you should target who you pitch to. It will be helpful to approach somebody who is open to exploring the data journey and offer to help them to turn that intuition into trust. He also insists that committing to maintaining the person you peached engaged throughout the whole process is as important. This can be done by keeping them in the loop of the data sustainability index as an ongoing measure of the value. 

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THE AUTHOR

Laura Bineviciute

The global Peer-advisory community for chief data officers and their teams

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