The Secret to Creating Data-Driven Teams

Data has never been more abundant, or more important. By 2025, IDC estimates that more than a trillion gigabytes of data will be created, captured and replicated around the world each year. That’s 10 times more than the data created in 2016 — and more than a quarter of that data is expected to be real-time in nature.

Across industries, businesses are focused on creating more sophisticated, flexible, secure and efficient environments to process and analyze a wealth of data. In order to thrive, these environments need to be equipped and managed by people who have a deep understanding of — and passion for — data.

The travel industry is a tremendous source of data. ARC settles transactions for more than 287 million passenger trips every year. From origin and destination to ticket price, fare class and other ticketing data, we certainly don’t have a shortage of information. But a wealth of data is useless unless your company is mining, analyzing and driving decisions based on the information you are collecting.

In recent years, ARC has broadened its vision to more strategically focus on data and the opportunities it can create for our customers. This required a significant shift in mindset and process across the organization, and we’ve come a long way. I recently checked in with Manager of Product Design and Data Solutions at ARC, Shital Sabne, to reflect on our progress and how we made it happen.

Bridging the Gap

Three years ago, ARC was making steady progress in its mission to become data-driven. Some general infrastructure was already in place, and our tools were at various stages of maturity.

Our approach was simple: Get management out of the way and turn smart people loose on the data.

Our greatest challenge at the time was that the employees who were the most passionate about data weren’t able to quickly or efficiently share their knowledge.

Everyone was self-educating, and they were missing out on the momentum that comes from collaborative learning and dynamic discussions. In Shital’s words, there was “no way to bridge the islands of knowledge across the company.”

But positive changes began to accelerate when our Business Intelligence Community of Practice (BI-COP) was formed. This was not a strategic initiative. It had no budget. There was no corporate committee formed for governance. This initiative began when Shital decided to lead a few people from across the company (technology groups, product groups, finance and other departments) to:

  • Leverage data more effectively
  • Glean more actionable findings
  • Share information freely
  • Get results faster

Our approach was simple: Get management out of the way and turn smart people loose on the data.

The Keys to Our Success

After an initial meeting, interest in the BI-COP began to grow organically throughout the organization, and news spread about this influential new group that was passionate about data.

Shital reflected on some key points that made a big impact for ARC’s BI-COP group, especially in the early stages:

  • A $0 budget helped. No specific ROI was being monitored, and the snacks and occasional lunch were covered by one of the supporting managers. The content was pro-bono from external contacts or the members themselves.
  • No management allowed. The group wanted to foster a safe environment where they could openly talk about problems and knowledge gaps, as well as generate trust across the group. A few managers are now allowed (I’m one of the lucky few), but early on, this kept the group at a manageable size — almost under the radar — and it really began to gel.
  • Contribution required. To join the group at first, members needed to contribute valuable input. The “contribution” could be a technical skill, methodology experience, or even business understanding of a problem domain they could offer. The aim was to create a truly passionate and dynamic environment. Members would often chat with people expressing interest before they joined, ensuring that they would be a good fit. In some cases, the person expressing interest just needed a training course, and they could be re-directed to the resource they needed. The group has since evolved to more open participation, but this was key to maintaining momentum in the early stages.

While this is a good recipe for success, Shital admits, “We had to do trial and error at first to see what the group really needed, and we started to focus on what the group was asking for.” Sometimes the content was either too technical or too basic for the majority of the group, and they worked hard to find the sweet spot that delivered the greatest value. This approach evolved into three primary agenda categories:

  • Deep dive into some tool or technology
  • External speaker from a customer, industry expert, or even a technology expert from a vendor (not sales)
  • Best practice or technique on something working well at ARC

Three Years On

Fast forward three years to today, and the group has grown from a core set of about 15 data geeks to a recent meeting that had more than 70 people participating and learning how to drive customer solutions with data. (Not bad for a 400-person company!)

Best practices are quickly shared around the team and trickle through the entire organization, eliminating knowledge knots that can slow us down. But the greatest benefit to the BI-COP team is also the strongest benefit to ARC: knowledge growth and accelerating the way we are working, communicating, and growing the organizational muscle around using data and analytics effectively.

After successfully introducing an internal hackathon, hosting a knowledge fair on airline industry data, and building a network that continually reaches out across traditional organizational lines, Shital is passing the torch to the next leader of the BI-COP. He explained that “developing leadership in the core group and now reaching out proactively to help others at ARC” has been one of the key and unexpected benefits of creating the BI-COP.

Want to create positive, transformative change within your company? Find some energetic, passionate people in your organization. Plant the seed of an idea like ARC’s BI-COP, support them only as they ask, and sit back and watch the magic happen.