Adrian
3 min readMar 5, 2024

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Data Culture and Generative AI: No Silver Bullet

Data Analytics Series

Talking about holy grails in Data Analytics, another topic of major importance for an organization’s “infrastructure” is data culture, that can be defined as the collective beliefs, values, behaviors, and practices of an organization’s employees in harnessing the value of data for decision-making, operations, or insight. Rooted in data literacy, data culture is an extension of an organization’s culture in respect to data that acts as enabler in harnessing the value of data. It’s about thinking critically about data and how data is used to create value.

The current topic was suggested by PowerBI.tips’ webcast from today [3] and is based on Brent Dykes’ article from Forbes ‘Why AI Isn’t Going to Solve All Your Data Culture Problems’ [1]. Dykes’ starting point for the discussion is Wavestone’s annual data executive survey based on which the number of companies that reported they had “created a data-driven organization” rose sharply from 23.9 percent in 2023 to 48.1 percent in 2024 [2]. The report’s authors concluded that the result is driven by the adoption of Generative AI, the capabilities of OpenAI-like tools to generate context-dependent meaningful text, images, and other content in response to prompts.

I agree with Dykes that AI technologies can’t be a silver bullet for an organization data culture given that AI either replaces people’s behaviors or augments existing ones, being thus a substitute and not a cure [1]. Even for a disruptive technology like Generative AI, it’s impossible to change so much employees’ mindset in a so short period of time. Typically, a data culture matures over years with sustained effort. Therefore, the argument that the increase is due to respondent’s false perception is more than plausible. There’s indeed a big difference between thinking about an organization as being data-driven and being data-driven.

The three questions-based evaluation considered in the article addresses this difference, thinking vs. being. Changes in data culture don’t occur just because some people or metrics say so, but when people change their mental models based on data, when the interpersonal relations change, when the whole dynamics within the organization changes (positively). If people continue the same behavior and practices, then there are high chances that no change occurred besides the Brownian movement in a confined space of employees, that’s just chaotic motion.

Indeed, a data culture should encourage the discovery, exploration, collaboration, discussions [1] respectively knowledge sharing and make people more receptive and responsive about environmental or circumstance changes. However, just involving leadership and having things prioritized and funded is not enough, no matter how powerful the drive. These can act as enablers, though more important is to awaken and guide people’s interest, working on people’s motivation and supporting the learning process through mentoring. No amount of brute force can make a mind move and evolve freely unless the mind is driven by an inborn curiosity!

Driving a self-driving car doesn’t make one a better driver. Technology should challenge people and expand their understanding of how data can be used in different contexts rather than give solutions based on a mass of texts available as input. This is how people grow meaningfully and how an organization’s culture expands. Readily available answers make people become dull and dependent on technology, which in the long-term can create more problems. Technology can solve problems when used creatively, when problems and their context are properly understood, and the solutions customized accordingly.

Unfortunately, for many organizations data culture will be just a topic to philosophy about. Data culture implies a change of mindset, perception, mental models, behavior, and practices based on data and not only consulting the data to confirm one’s biases on how the business operates!

Originally published at sql-troubles.blogspot.com.

Resources:
[1] Forbes (2024) Why AI Isn’t Going To Solve All Your Data Culture Problems, by Brent Dykes (link)
[2] Wavestone (2024) 2024 Data and AI Leadership Executive Survey (link)
[3] Power BI tips (2024) Ep.299: AI & Data Culture Problems (link)

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Adrian

IT professional/blogger with more than 24 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management