Is your business data-driven, or just data-busy?
Is your business data-driven, or just data-busy?

Written by: Phil Husbands

My core interests and specialist expertise are in enterprise data strategy, data capability development and data-driven organisational change. My work focuses on building the operational and people-focused capabilities, which are essential for ensuring that data enables businesses to work more effectively, make better decisions and achieve their goals.

Is your business data-driven, or just data-busy?

Businesses are understandably taking strides to become ‘data-driven’ in today’s digital world. Some businesses unwillingly end up being ‘data-busy’. 

Quite simply, a data-driven business is one that uses data in ways that drive the business towards achieving its goals. Unfortunately, this means that some businesses lose their way before becoming data-driven. They end up spending lots of time, energy and money on data, without achieving much benefit in return. That’s the difference between data-driven and data-busy.

Why do businesses end up data-busy?

Every business trying to become data-driven, wants to avoid being data-busy. So why do some businesses end up being just data-busy?


The primary cause lies in leadership. A business’s data efforts must be guided by a singular vision and championed by senior sponsors. If not, they will be plagued by funding problems, poor stakeholder buy-in and siloed processes. Naturally, fighting back against these issues drains precious resources, and holds a business back on the journey towards becoming data-driven. This is the first reason why a business ends up being data-busy – a lack of appropriate data leadership.


A second reason, is an unwillingness to use numbers. Or to express that the other way around, a willingness to make decisions and take actions based on opinions and ‘gut-feel’. In businesses where this is the culture, data has to work hard to gain traction. A common symptom in meetings is wasting time on debating ‘whose report is right’, or arguing against the credibility of some data analysis over others. In these circumstances, people are busy with data, but not in a productive way. Data is not driving the business forwards.


Another cause of a business being data-busy rather than data-driven, is a failure of projects to acknowledge data impacts. This is when a business carries out projects without fully investigating how each project could change the way data flows through the business, or change the data itself. The project must spend extra time and money on remedial work to repair the unforeseen impacts. Or the business is forced to live with the consequences of unintentionally undermined data. Sometimes, it is both. In either case, the business is once again piling energy and resources into data which is not returned in the form of business value.


A fourth cause of ending up being data-busy, is poor access to quality data. People are unable to access the data that they need if time is wasted searching for data, or manually patching gaps in data quality. As a result, people are once again busy trying to work with data, but for little benefit. Or in the case that people just give up on trying to access data, no benefit at all!


Finally, another cause is the absence of a data standard. This is a documented record of the level of quality that a business’s data must maintain in order to satisfy the business’s data needs. Let’s put it like this – a business’s data has a job to do. If data doesn’t have a job, then there’s really no good reason for a business to hold onto it. Without a data standard there is no target for data quality. It is impossible to hit a target that isn’t there! As a result, businesses find themselves endlessly running around in circles, trying to get data to fulfil jobs which the data is in no fit state to do. Which is by definition, you guessed it, data-busy!

To wrap up…

There’s a couple of fundamental points to take away from all this.

  1. It’s important to simply be aware of the danger of becoming data-busy. Some businesses believe they are data-driven, because they can see lots of activity taking place around data. Yet the leaders of the business aren’t aware that most of that activity is wasted effort. This is clearly a precarious position for a business to be in, and one that can begin to be avoided by businesses leaders being more sensitive to the kind of situations described above.
  2. After awareness, comes preparedness. To prevent or rectify harmful cases of ‘data-busy’ you must be well prepared. One of the best ways to do this, is to devise and adopt a data strategy which incorporates the kind of issues outlined here, and clarifies the business’s tactics for responding to them.

We hope you find this insight useful in making your business more data-driven! Fuel some useful discussion by leaving your comments, and if you have any questions that you’d like to ask me directly, you’re very welcome to connect with me. There are more causes of ‘data-busy’ which to keep brief, has not been mentioned here. We always enjoy hearing people’s thoughts on data topics like this one!

PS – Take a look at this short video below for more insight! Alternatively, for more articles like this check out more blogs here!

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  1. Abigail Lee

    Hey Phil! thanks for this great article. You can explore more business articles as well as professional business templates from this site-

  2. Alvin Joseph

    Very well- written and informative blog. Thanks for sharing this such a great information. And I will visit you again. Thanks a lot.


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