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Here’s the first question I used to ask companies when I applied for a job, “Are you a data-driven company?”. Innocent enough. What I was getting after, is, do people throughout the company make decision based more on gut feelings, or real data. And if it’s data, how often is it refreshed? Where did it come from? Who’s in charge of maintaining it? It’s the answer to these questions that would help me understand how successful I would be at that company. It’s exactly the same now, when I go into a company to help bring data science to its products or turn around an effort already in place.

It’s a very important question. Here’s why. If the person interviewing me said,”oh, sure, we have flatscreen TV dashboards all over the place and KPI’s coming out of our ears. We’re all data all the time!”, it still may not be true!

Have you ever listened to something while hoping to hear what you wanted, and lo and behold, the thing you wanted is exactly what you heard? There’s a huge difference between listening to data and actually living and dying by it.

The world exists in many shades of gray. As much as I’d like the numbers to tell the whole store all the time, it just doesn’t work that way. No one asks us to add 1 and 1. There are outside factors that make life complicated! What about a revenue model that fails to predict anything useful after marketing switched from twenty-somethings to seniors? It happens all the time. And we need gut feelings. That’s not the topic of this post. My main argument is that being data driven starts at the top. Not the top of a silo, like a product manager, but the absolute top of the company, the CEO.

As a company, Trunk Club absolutely nailed this. Terry Boyle (the CEO) is a genius, and an absolute joy to work with, in no small part because he puts a lot of believe in data and predictive analytics. He gets excited about data. It’s contagious. And because of that, everyone knows how much it matters to the entire organization.

Mountain Climbing Silhouette

Contrast that with a company without that drive. I’ve seen it over and over; a company has a stakeholder who believes in predictive methods and is very vocal. This person gets a budget and makes a hire or two or three. Ta da! Data science! Not so fast. more times than not, this stakeholder has huge roadblocks to navigate, hoping to impose data driven methods on others.

Just think about the burdon data science places on the IT department; they’re usually the ones that have to build and manage new data stores and compute environments for data scientists to work and deploy models in. Then, front-end teams need to expose those predictive elements to support products or processes. This is time consuming, and if it’s considered a hindrance, or worse, a pet project, life for the data scientist is miserable!

So if you’re a stakeholder who is itching to bring data science into your company, or a data scientist looking for that next opportunity, it might be smart to start with the CEO. Ask a few targeted questions and make sure the belief in your plan starts at the top. And if you are the CEO, I hope I’ve convinced you that your approval, and even enthusiasm is key to data science success in your company.

Zank Bennett is CEO of Bennett Data Science, a group that works with companies from early-stage startups to the Fortune 500. BDS specializes in working with large volumes of data to solve complex business problems, finding novel ways for companies to grow their products and revenue using data, and maximizing the effectiveness of existing data science personnel. https://bennettdatascience.com